Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, March 07, 2016

Heart and Faith

"It's a big problem. I work here. I lived here until it got too cold [power shut off by the municipality]."
"There is a temple there and a temple there [large nearby houses of worship]."
"Demolishing everything breaks my heart. But yes, I will take it all down. I have got my permit to do that."
"I would like to have a temple here and still farm the property. That to me seems fair."
Le Thuan, Buddhist Vietnamese monk
Arlen Redekop/PNG
Arlen Redekop/PNG    Le Thuan stands on the site where the City of Burnaby has ordered demolition of a temple and other buildings
He arrived in Canada as a refugee in 1988, and he made his home in British Columbia's lower mainland. He invested his heart and soul in expressions of his Buddhist faith and unexpected events have transpired to place him in a space of disbelief and distress. The City of Burnaby is resolutely determined that this man will not have his Buddhist temple, and he has been driven to obey their lawful injunction to obtain from them a permit to destroy his life's work.

Le Thuan who had fled Vietnam to live as a refugee in a camp in the Philippines in 1988, found himself a home in Canada 27 years ago. Opportunity came his way 14 years ago and he bought land in Burnaby, that land within the city-administered Agricultural Land Reserve. The only concession to its agricultural designation that an astute witness might find on the property is a raised patch of ground growing the organic blueberries that he sells in the summer months, the proceeds helping to pay for his temple.

Le Thuan had applied for permission from the Agricultural Land Commission to alter the designation of the land he committed himself to, so he could be enabled to subdivide the property to achieve his dream of hosting a temple and also growing things, but the City of Burnaby opposed his request. Gradually, however, Le Thuan had assembled a series of buildings on his property, around his house. Sheds at first to complement existing outbuildings.

Then he built a modest temple, a hall and a dining room seeing to it that plumbing and wiring were all installed. Thus was born the Vietnamese Unified Buddhist Congregation of British Columbia. And to that temple were attracted one hundred people to attend weekend services. On special occasions with the mounting of certain events, up to a thousand people would arrive to attend the Buddhist services. He had achieved his goal.

And then it all came tumbling down. Some agency informed the building-permit section of Burnaby in 2014 about the presence of those buildings Le Thuan had assiduously built in celebration of his religion. Which occasioned inspection. And where inspectors identified safety and health concerns, to complement the unlawful construction for which Le Thuan had never applied for the appropriate authorizing permit.

He can no longer live in his house, and has had to resort to renting a place to stay at in Chilliwack, located 100 kilometres' distance from Burnaby since the municipality shut off his power, awaiting their injunction to be obeyed. The Burnaby property is entirely devoted to Buddhist devotion, with impressive Buddhist statues. And the outbuildings are stacked full of building supplies and materials, gas heaters, hot-water tanks, sinks and toilets. Nearby, in the yard sit a backhoe and Bobcat.

Oh yes, and nearby, in spitting distance of the property devoted to Buddhism sit much larger religious edifices; the Evangelical Chinese Bible Church, the Filipino-rooted Iglesia ni Cristo,  and further along a large Hare Krishna temple. All located on that same land ostensibly dedicated to agricultural use. But it's not only the presence of those disparate houses of worship that defy the agricultural designation, since nearby there is also a golf course and ball diamonds.

Aside from putting out $950,000 to buy his land in 2002, Le Thuan has spent $300,000 on construction materials and other associated pay-outs. The demolition ordered by Burnaby Council has $120,000 associated with its work to destroy all the modest and purpose-built structures that Le Thuan has overseen. Little wonder that the very thought of proceeding with the order to destroy everything he has had built pains him.

Thinking that if he sells the land it might enable him to buy a church no longer in use and to convert it to a Buddhist temple, he placed a selling price of $9.8 million for the property that has been assessed at $4.7-million in value. He later dropped the price of his property to $7.8-million. His lack of enthusiasm for off-loading the property may be a reflection of the price he has placed on it.

Wistfully, he still envisions a miracle, that a reversal will take place, that he will be encouraged to seek the building permit he had failed to obtain prior to embarking on his building spree, and that he will be allowed to proceed. Why shouldn't he feel that to be the most equitable solution to the vexing problem, after all?

How is it fair that others have also built houses of worship on that land set aside for agricultural purposes, and he may not aspire to do the same?

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