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

Man accused in Salmon Arm church shooting also charged with arson

Parmenter family home badly damaged by fire a month before killing

Cod Gone Wild to serve the Shuswap another round of musical cheer

Celtic-inspired Okanagan band to perform in Salmon Arm and Sorrento

Kids Christmas shopping event coming to Salmon Arm

Friends and Neighbours by Leah Blain

Okanagan teenagers found after missing for four days

The pair, believed to be dating, had been missing since Nov. 15.

Shuswap families bring home medals from Calgary karate tournament

The Summit Open Martial Arts Challenge was good to martial artists from Salmon Arm and Sicamous

Bye bye Bei Bei: Giant panda born in U.S. zoo heads to China

Panda heads back to China as part of cooperative breeding program

WATCH: Coldstream garage fire as hot as 275 C: deputy fire Chief

Shop fire potential for ‘one heck of a fireworks show,’ O’Hara says

North Okanagan women head up college board

Gloria Morgan named chair and Juliette Cunningham vice-chair Tuesday

Artist waves women’s flag in Okanagan

SheShe declares femininity with all-encompassing exhibit

Mental health first aid course offered by CMHA at Salmon Arm Okanagan College campus

Students learn to engage with someone experiencing a mental health problem

B.C. man gets life with no parole until 2042 for murder of Belgian tourist near Boston Bar

Sean McKenzie pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of 28-year-old Amelie Christelle Sakkalis

‘Very disrespectful’: B.C. first responder irked by motorists recording collisions on cellphones

Central Cariboo Search and Rescue deputy chief challenges motorists to break the habit

Daily cannabis linked to reduction in opioid use: B.C. researchers

Researchers looked at a group of 1,152 people in Vancouver who reported substance use and chronic pain

Thieves smash way into Vernon business

Incident at Simply Delicious happened at 4:30 a.m. and was caught on video

Most Read