Jarndyce and Jarndyce and Jumbo

What’s the difference between the Jumbo Resort legal morass and Charles Dickens’ famous fictional case?

“This scarecrow of a suit has, over the course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant, who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled, has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out.”

So writes Charles Dickens, in “Bleak House,” of the fictional court case Jarndyce and Jarndyce, in which the battle over an inheritance drags on for generations, until the inheritance is completely consumed by 100 years of court costs, and the case is abandoned. In Dickens’ novel of 1853, Jarndyce and [versus] Jarndyce serves as a metaphor, a heavy criticism of the chancery court system of Victorian England.

There is something weird and wonderful when a metaphor becomes real life — there also can be something disturbing when a metaphor comes to real life.

So it is with the proposed Jumbo Resort, which has entered its second generation of litigation — over a quarter century of ups and downs, which may bode to give Jarndyce and Jarndyce a run for its money (pun intended).

The torturous legal destiny of Jumbo Resort has led it to almost every major court in the land — the BC Court of Appeal, the BC Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of Canada … following several different tacks, whether the religious element of the First Nations’ Qat’Muk or the arcana of the government’s environmental certificates or requirements for starting construction.

The children of the original proponents, original protesters, First Nations, the government bureaucrats and politicians who had the Jumbo file land on their desks, the media who report on it, and the general public who observe it all with bemusement, outrage, detachment or complete uninterest, are now at an age where Jumbo will suck up the oxygen, much as it did for their parents’ generation. When this current generation is old and yearning for a peaceful retirement, their children will be filing cross-appeals.

What makes the Jumbo Resort saga stranger than Jarndyce and Jarndyce — stranger than fiction, as it were — is that the Dickens’ case at least featured a real sum of money, something tangible to fight over until it was all gone.

Jumbo Resort doesn’t exist, has never existed, and looks more and more to the casual observer like something that will never exist, except as the idea it’s always been.

Adding to the strangeness is the fact that this idea, this dream, this non-thing, has a real life mayor and city council, as a resort municipality. Put in place some six years ago, the Council presides over thin air.

And if the current trend of melting glaciers continues, by the time the third generation of proponents, protesters, First Nations, bureaucrats, politicians, reporters, and public is grown up to take on the mantle of Jumbo, there will no longer be a glacier there.

Thus, 25 years from now — and who can say Jumbo won’t still be before the courts then — there won’t even be an idea to contest, there will just be the lawsuits.

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