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The public’s right to public access

The recent appeal court decision of Stoney and Minnie Lakes sets a dangerous precedent

This week, the B.C. Court of Appeal sided with the Douglas Lake Cattle Company in its efforts to block public access to Crown-owned Stoney and Minnie lakes.

It’s disappointing, to say the least.

In his decision, Justice Peter Willcock sided with the ranch, ruling the legislation defining public access is too vague. This in addition to stating that the lower court erred in its 2018 judgment, as the public trails and roads that lead to the public waters don’t quite reach the shore, meaning those who wish to use the lakes must trespass over private land to do so.

The ability of a private owner to restrict access to the public foreshore is a precedent that’s going to hurt the rest of us – especially by a landowner who doesn’t live here and runs an American company.

For most of us, B.C. is a land of promise – a place where we can roam and fish and be outdoors with nature. Much of the forests, lands and bodies of water have been established as public land for many reasons, such as environmental protection, but a lot of the reason, too, is so we can appreciate what Mother Nature has to offer.

People all over B.C. own property on the lakefront. What happens if they all decide to restrict access?

We can place blame on the provincial government for not updating and clearly defining public access in legislation. But it all boils down to ensuring the public has the right to access Crown lands and waters over private land. Despite where the issue lies, this decision creates a precedent that could affect many hiking trails and lake access across B.C.

It accentuates the battle between those with and without land, underscoring the fact that someone with lakefront property, though they don’t own the foreshore, might be able to control who accesses it.

It’s a slippery slope and one we hope won’t lead to more people following the same path.


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