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Fish and game club plans to take Douglas Lake dispute to Supreme Court of Canada

The B.C. Court of Appeals ruled in favour of the Douglas Lake Ranch last week, shuttering public access to the two lakes.
Image Credit: FILE PHOTO

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club may have lost a recent court battle for public access to Stoney and Minnie Lakes, but that doesn't mean they've given up. The club is hoping to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada to win a "precedent-setting" case for public access to waterways.

In order to do that, though, they must show that landowners placing restrictions on publicly-owned space is a matter of public importance. Rick McGowan with the fish and game club says they've seen support from "thousands of people." 

He described the appeal decision as a "mockery of justice."

"This has ramifications on every body of water in Canada with private property on it. How many of those lakes exist? Probably thousands," McGowan said.

Outdoor recreation advocates, including the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C., have been watching the Douglas Lake case closely. The council represents 50 recreational groups across the province, including anglers, 4x4 enthusiasts and mountain bikers.

READ MORE: Billionaire-owned Douglas ranch near Merritt wins appeal barring public from accessing lakes

"The judgement made is very clear that B.C. sorely lacks public access legislation that clearly lays out the public's rights of access... to pursue legitimate recreation interests," Louise Pederson, executive director of the council said in a statement to

The environmental law centre at the University of Victoria published a report in 2016 documenting cases across the province where public access to lakes or forests is being restricted. For example, the report states that provincial fish stocking has ceased at about 30 lakes, "mostly in central Vancouver Island."

The Freshwater Fishing Society of B.C. had stocked both Minnie and Stoney lakes, the two disputed in the recently appealed Nicola Valley case, as recently as last year, according to the GoFishBC website. A GoFishBC spokesperson wouldn't comment specifically on the Douglas Lake dispute, but said the policy remains that only lakes with public access are stocked. 

The University of Victoria report also outlined possible recommendations for the provincial government to legislate reforms to land access, both public and private.

The club's lawyer, Chris Harvey, described the recent ruling as "bizarre".

"This case represents an ongoing conflict between private property owners and the public for access to lakes across the province, but the interesting thing about this judgement is that it almost encourages property owners to raise the level of water to then make it private property," he said.

READ MORE: Pandemic has new and returning anglers hooked around Kamloops fishing holes

"It's a new doctrine of law, as far as I can see," he added, because the ruling has implications on not only provincial land legislation, but also the federal Navigable Waters Act.

Rick McGowan with the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club says they're not ready to back down, but the expenses from the lawsuit are going to be a big hit to the club.

"Our little club might go bankrupt over this, but this is not a lawsuit for the benefit of our club," he said. "We're all older people and we've voted to leave this world a better place for future generations."

The Douglas Lake Cattle Company advertises exclusive fishing at two lakes within their property.

READ MORE: Fighting to preserve your access to this resource

Rick McGowan says Douglas Lake is not the only group blocking public access to Nicola Valley lakes. Dating back to the 1960s, he estimates up to 30 lakes have been blocked by a private landowner that were once accessible by the public.

"It makes sense that (Douglas Lake Ranch) wants the lakes for themselves, but the B.C. government is who's at fault here for not looking out for the people of B.C.," McGowan said.

The Douglas Lake Cattle Company did not respond to a request for comment.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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