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

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A partial image from the painting Kanaka Creek by Eric Hotz, which in the exhibit at the Pitt Meadows Art Gallery.
A Study of Nature exhibition opens at Pitt Meadows Art Gallery

Eric Hotz paintings feature familiar scenes from across the Lower Mainland

Shannon Belsito took this photo on Thursday morning, indicating the true arrival of spring. “Feeling the inspiring beauty and freshness of spring with these gorgeous magnolia blossoms near Kanaka Creek that just popped after the rain.” (Special to The News)
SHARE: Spring has arrived in all its splendor

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

A small memorial to Rich Goulet was started at Pitt Meadows Secondary after his recent death. (Neil Corbett/The News)
LETTER: Rename Pitt Meadows school gym in coach’s honour

Rich Goulet was considered one of the provinces best basketball coaches and died recently

Doug Nolin, a Maple Ridge senior, snapped this picture of his pet pigeons taking flight down by the old Albion ferry dock. “What a beautiful land we live in,” he said. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Chirp, chirp: Ridge senior captures pigeons taking flight

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

Pamela Franklin captured this picture of a raccoon in Maple Ridge, “chilling” in her backyard, on her storage bin. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Lounging in the spring sun

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

People take part in an anti-curfew protest in Montreal on Sunday April 11, 2021. Hundreds of people gathered in Old Montreal tonight in defiance of a new 8 p.m. curfew. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giuseppe Valiante
VIDEO: Hundreds defy Montreal’s 8 p.m. curfew in violent, destructive protest

Quebec reported 1,535 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, as well as five additional deaths linked to the virus

A volunteer disinfects a historical Mohabat Khan mosque ahead of the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, April 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)
For Canadian Muslims, second pandemic Ramadan is a time of hope and sadness

Many members of the association are trying to find ways ‘to help people stay connected to one another’

South Surrey farmland, March 2020. The province’s crackdown on secondary residences sparked protests that have the NDP government engaged in a lengthy rewrite of its legislation. (Tracy Holmes/Peace Arch News)
B.C. NDP now wants to keep even ‘non-farmers’ on the land

‘Grandfathering’ of second residences extended again

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. The Vancouver Canucks say 25 players and coaches have tested positive during a COVID-19 outbreak that involves a variant of the virus. It is now the biggest reported outbreak in the NHL this season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks’ return to practice pushed back as player added to COVID protocol list

COVID outbreak has led to eight games being cancelled

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

Most Read