Judge rules private landowners can’t block public access to B.C. lake

The Nicola Valley ranch’s position was that it owned Stoney Lake and Minnie Lake

  • Dec. 8, 2018 12:10 p.m.

–– Kamloops This Week

People in a packed Kamloops courtroom broke out in applause on Friday as a B.C. Supreme Court judge delivered a judgment described as decades in the making, ruling all lakes are public property and prohibiting private landowners from restricting access to them.

The decision was the culmination of a protracted trial spanning six years, pitting a wealthy private ranch — the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, owned by U.S. billionaire Stan Kroenke (husband of a Walmart heir and owner of the Los Angeles Rams, Colorado Avalanche, Arsenal and other professional sports franchises) — against the B.C. government and the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club in a fight over access to two small fishing lakes.

The Nicola Valley ranch’s position was that it owned Stoney Lake and Minnie Lake because the bodies of water are surrounded by private property and alterations to the lakes had been made by the company. The ranch also claimed ownership of fish in the lakes by virtue of the fact it kept them stocked.

The fish and game club, on the other hand, argued B.C. laws don’t allow private landowners to control bodies of water or the fish inside them.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves ruled against the ranch. He determined roads in the area of the lakes that had been claimed as the property of the ranch were actually public. Groves also said the Douglas Lake Cattle Company may have to remove dams it has constructed to increase the size of some lakes, which resulted in flooded roads.

Groves ruled the ranch cannot lawfully block access to either lake, but he did place some limits on the actions of anglers, ordering catch-and-release fishing on both of the lakes.

“It would be nonsensical for a government to retain the rights to a lake if, by virtue of a single owner purchasing all the land surrounding a lake, that owner could prohibit public use or ownership of the lake,” Groves said in his ruling.

“It only makes sense that government would have retained the ownership of bodies of water, lakes, with the intention of the public being allowed to access water they retained.”

But, Groves added, there are limits.

“By access, I am not suggesting that there exists a right to motorboat or other vehicular access to bodies of water, but it only makes sense that the government’s intention in retaining ownership of lakes means that there is public access, as determined and regulated by government, to these lakes,” he said.

In his judgment, Groves also called out the provincial government for decades of inaction despite findings by provincial officials as far back as 1996 that the ranch’s actions were illegal.

“Yet the province did not respond to this apparent unlawful act. In fact, for over 20 years, it did nothing,” Groves said.

“Over 20 years, a privately held corporation, owning a large swath of land, prohibited the public from driving on a public road and the province did nothing. This is most unfortunate. … The province has continuously failed the citizens of British Columbia.”

Groves also issued a five-page epilogue imploring the government to change its laws and regulate access to address issues surrounding ownership and use of lakes and other Crown land. Failing to do so, he said, could lead to a wave of expensive litigation.

“First off, look at the Trespass Act. Is that really what you intend in today’s world?” Groves said. “Secondly, if you own the lakes of the province, which you do, can you not regulate access? There really is no point to ownership, otherwise.”

As Groves stood up to leave the courtroom — packed with about 75 spectators — supporters of the fish and game club broke out in applause.

Douglas Lake Cattle Company ranch manager Joe Gardner was not one of those celebrating.

“I think I want to read it and think about it,” he said of Groves’ decision. “I’ve got no comment other than that.”

Speaking to reporters outside court, Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club spokesman Rick McGowan called the decision “a win” for his organization, but not the end of the fight.

“It’s good for future litigation,” he said, noting he has been involved in the battle for lake access for 30 years.

Douglas Lake Cattle Company has not indicated whether it intends to appeal Groves’ decision.

Tim Petruk, Kamloops This Week

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Four charges approved in Saanich hit and run that left woman in coma

‘This was a significant crash that caused serious injuries,’ say police

Crown alleges resentment of ex-wife drove Oak Bay father to kill his daughters

Patrick Weir alleged in his closing arguments that Andrew Berry is responsible for the deaths of his daughters

Tour de Rock kicks off on Saturday morning

The 22nd annual Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock ride will take two weeks to complete

One-man Frankenstein show coming to Craigdarroch Castle

The Halloween special will kick off at the beginning of October

MISSING: Victoria man Cameron Johnston

VicPD are looking for a missing 36-year-old man

PHOTOS: Young protesters in B.C. and beyond demand climate change action

Many demonstaers were kids and teens who skipped school to take part

Former B.C. lifeguard gets house arrest for possession of child porn

Cees Vanderniet of Grand Forks will serve six months of house arrest, then two years’ probation

How to react to Trudeau’s racist photos? With humility, B.C. prof says

‘We are now treating racism as a crime that you cannot recover from’

‘I’d do it again,’ says B.C. man who swam naked, drunk in Toronto shark tank

David Weaver, of Nelson, was drunk when he went to Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto on Oct. 12 2018

VIDEO: Fire destroys Williams Lake strip club targeted by past arson attempts

Diamonds and Dust Entertainment Lounge destroyed by fire, as well as New World Tea and Coffee House

Trudeau seeks meeting with Singh to apologize for blackface, brownface photos

‘I will be apologizing to him personally as a racialized Canadian,’ Trudeau said Friday

Crime Stoppers most wanted for Greater Victoria for the week of September 17

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Should the province step in to upgrade the road to Bamfield?

The death of two University of Victoria students on a bus bound… Continue reading

Charges stayed against Alberta RCMP officer in alleged off-duty Whistler assault

Const. Vernon Hagen instead completed an alternative measures program

Most Read