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B.C. Court of Appeal overturns groundbreaking 2018 decision granting public access to private lakes

Lake access ruling reversed

B.C.’s highest court has overturned a groundbreaking 2018 decision granting public access to private lakes, likening the words of the trial judge to those of an advocate.

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club sued the Douglas Lake Cattle Company for access to a pair of prized fishing lakes — Minnie Lake and Stoney Lake. In 2018, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves ruled in favour of the club, saying the public must have access to the lakes, even through they are on private land.

At the heart of the trial was access to roads leading to and from the lakes. Because Groves ruled the public should have access to the lakes, he ordered public access be granted to roads leading to and from the bodies of water.

Douglas Lake Cattle Company, owned by American billionaire Stan Kroenke, appealed, arguing Groves improperly relied on his own interpretations and considerations of evidence.

A three-judge B.C. Court of Appeal panel sided with the cattle company.

“The trial judge, in his epilogue, added his voice to the chorus of those seeking to limit the rights of private property owners,” B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Peter Willcock wrote on behalf of the panel.

“In doing so, he was not describing the law but advocating for a right of public access to lakes on private land. In conclusion, it is my opinion that DLCC is entitled to restrict access to Minnie Lake and Stoney Lake and the club has no statutory or common law right to cross DLCC’s property, whether it is flooded or not, to access the lakes.”

Willcock also overturned an order from Groves awarding legal costs to the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club.



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