An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
WE LOVE OUR LAKES. They’re a big reason this is such a great place to live, a major part of our outdoors recreation.
But enjoyment of many of those bodies of water is in question right now as the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club looks at challenging the latest legal decision involving a pair of lakes on Douglas Lake Cattle Company land.
A B.C. Court of Appeals decision reversed an earlier ruling that had given the public access to the lakes. The first decision was pretty simple in its rationale: lakes and the fish in those lakes belong to the public; therefore, the public has a right to access them, even over private land.
The appeals court took a different view, citing, among other things, the fact B.C. is the only province that hasn’t legislated public access over private lands.
While the dispute between the ranch and the fish and game club has been characterized in the media as a David and Goliath battle, anyone who owns a chunk of land can sympathize with the view that ownership should buy you control of who uses it.
That’s why so many “No Trespassing” signs are posted in rural areas. Frankly, I have sympathy for that point of view. On the other hand, if the Crown owns the water, shouldn’t the public be able to use it?
A couple of years ago I read a book called Walking to Camelot in which author John Cherrington describes a 300-mile hike he and a friend took through the English countryside. Such a trip wouldn’t have been possible without a public policy — a contentious one — that assures the public’s right to pass over private land.
Some say it’s a model that could be used here.
Maybe, maybe not. But the obvious solution is legislation resolving the public vs. private conundrum.
It’s an issue that deserves broad public discussion, not just lawyers and judges.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.