In a small community in Prince Edward Island (PEI), the peaceful retirement plans of Norma Millar and her husband Lawrence took an unexpected turn when their Buddhist neighbors, affiliated with the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS), expressed interest in buying their property. Despite initially resisting the offer, the Millars eventually sold their home, unaware of the larger land acquisition efforts made by Bliss and Wisdom, the Taiwan-based organization behind GEBIS.
Bliss and Wisdom, led by Master Zhen-Ru, has been expanding its presence on PEI through a series of land transactions. With the influx of international donations totaling in the tens of millions, the organization has acquired hundreds of properties in eastern PEI, sparking a debate over land ownership and leading to calls for a public inquiry.
The unique landscape of PEI, characterized by family farms and limited land availability, heightens the emotional attachment to the land and raises concerns about individual landowners dominating the island. To address this, the province implemented the Lands Protection Act in the 1980s, limiting the amount of arable land that corporations and individuals can own. Non-residents are also constrained by regulations, allowing them to purchase only five acres of property after it has been publicly listed for 90 days.
Critics argue that Bliss and Wisdom has exploited loopholes in the legislation by dividing land transactions through a network of affiliated companies and followers. The organization now operates five campuses on PEI, attracting students seeking enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition.
The controversy surrounding Bliss and Wisdom’s land acquisitions has ignited strong opposition from Islanders who fear the organization’s activities will disrupt the community fabric and erode their connection to the land. Concerns have been raised about the organization’s influence on local zoning regulations and the impact of increased population density.
As the debate continues, the fate of PEI’s land ownership and its delicate balance between tradition and development hangs in the balance.