As the University of British Columbia prepares to give final approval to a hospice on campus, residents of a high-rise tower next to the site of the planned facility insist it should go elsewhere.
The group, consisting primarily of recent Asian immigrants, says UBC has ignored their concerns and cultural beliefs, including their fear that living next door to people who are dying would bring negative energy to the community.
"This is not superstition - this is 5,000 years of culture and religion," Jane Ni, one of the opposing residents, said on Friday, adding that her right to religious beliefs is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
UBC considered - and ruled out - a previous location after students and beach-goers complained, said fellow resident Keri Zhang.
"Canada is a democratic country," Ms. Zhang said. "If UBC allows Wreck Beach users and students to have the opposition, why can't we get that treatment?"
Ms. Ni and Ms. Zhang spoke Friday at a press conference organized by members of Vancouver's Chinese-Canadian community who have been involved with residents since the hospice controversy erupted in January.
That's when residents went public with their concerns, saying they'd learned of the proposed hospice only when UBC announced a January open house about it and that cultural taboos around death and dying made it impossible to have dying people in their backyard. The group says they are not opposed to UBC building a hospice, but disagree with its location.
In response, UBC put the hospice project on hold. After further consultation and reports, including a real estate expert's report on whether property values would be hurt by a hospice in the neighbourhood - he found they wouldn't - the university restarted the process.
A board of governor's planning committee unanimously approved the proposed $10-million project this past Thursday and the full board's decision - slated for a meeting June 8 in Kelowna - "can be expected to mirror the committee vote," a UBC spokesman said on Friday.
UBC says it considered more than 15 sites for the hospice before settling on the current location - next to the 94-unit Promontory tower and across from UBC's Thunderbird Stadium.
In a February report, the ESL committee of the University Neighbourhoods Association - a nine-year-old group representing the growing number of on-campus residents - criticized UBC for an "after the fact" consultative process for the project.
The proposed hospice is a $10-million, 15-bed facility that would provide hospice care and serve as a research and teaching facility for UBC's faculty of medicine.
UBC staff have recommended planting trees to screen the project from the neighbouring high-rise and that the university try to help find other on-campus housing opportunities for people who wish to move. Staff have also recommended continued outreach to new Canadians living on campus.