Brighter Days Ahead for Property Rights by Marlene Black

Marlene Black

Here’s wishing all our e-news readers, a very “Happy New Year” and all the best in 2017. Hopefully this year will see fewer cases of abuses against good, hardworking people, fewer unlawful bylaws and a better understanding of personal freedoms and property rights. It’s what keeps us going in this organization called the Ontario Landowners Association.

Several times a week it seems that we answer the phone to talk to someone who has just heard of us either through googling property rights which eventually leads to our website, or from a neighbour who has given out our number and told them to call us or they have read about us in one of the farm papers or the local newspaper. The end result is the same. We are called because someone cannot believe what is happening to them. From trying to fix a broken deck at their cottage, to putting in new windows, to cutting down a tree, to adding a garage, to being denied a building permit on their building lot or to adding fill to a low spot on their land, each call has one common denominator. To their complete surprise, either their municipality or the conservation authorities have come running with “stop work orders” or “fines for disturbing wetlands” or “summons to appear in court” or “denials of permits”. This list is endless. These people are being treated like criminals, forced to try and defend their actions against a bottomless piggy bank of taxpayers’ dollars, drained of their savings trying to prove their innocence with expensive lawyers and if after a few years of battling the system, it looks like they may win in court, the crown will probably drop the charges. The other ominous option is they offer to drop the fine from $100,000 to some such payable amount like $1000 as long as you plead guilty and then they get their “guilty verdict”…so beware of that one. The prosecution does not want a court decision that may reveal that the actions of a municipality or conservation authority were actually kind of beyond their jurisdiction or possibly an illegal activity. That would not sit well…so you pleading guilty fits right into their plan.

There is a sliver of hope these days though. People are pushing back. We have landowner members across the province who regularly attend council meetings and hear when worrisome bylaws are being proposed or when ‘official plans’ are about to be implemented. These landowners get the word out and come back for the vote with a roomful of concerned citizens who show their support for those who oppose these bylaws. To their credit, many councils sensing the anger that a bylaw has created, have voted it down.

Conservation Authorities are awakening to the fact that three independent judges have ruled that they have been overstepping their jurisdiction and should maybe go back to helping the landowner out with erosion issues and follow their 1948 mandate instead of telling people they have the authority to ‘demolish your new building’, when they don’t. We hope this will stop the aggressive bullying behavior they have been known to exhibit while trespassing on an unsuspecting landowner’s property and threatening legal actions.

We have noticed lately, that there is a hunger among people to learn more about their rights. This has become apparent by the large flock of people who come over to talk to us when we are at the Ottawa Farm Show or the International Plowing Match or at local fairs. When we had a booth at the PC convention in Ottawa in the spring, it was full of people at all times asking questions and wanting to know more about us. The Carleton Landowners have recently hosted some ‘meet and greet’ the landowners in the Stittsville Barn so the urban people can find out more about what we do. Hopefully in 2017 we will have more to read in local papers about ‘knowing your rights”.

An interesting observation seems to be that many bylaws (pertaining to private property) are written not so much to fix a problem but to deal with a complaint. In most cases that we hear about, there has been ONE complaint that has caused the wheels of bylaw infractions, to turn. I think it may be the old common law decree that you can do anything on your land AS LONG AS YOU DON’T DISTURB YOUR NEIGHBOUR. The municipalities are now the mediators for neighbour disputes it seems. Do you think, in the New Year if we all baked more pies for our neighbours or included them in our parties or shoveled their laneways, we’d have fewer complaints? Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s that simple but it would be an interesting experiment.

Three landowners have gone back to school and one, Jeff Bogaerts, is now a paralegal and the other two will be shortly. We have more and more people doing their own research as well as dedicated readers who are reading the Acts and the Legislation and spreading the word about our rights. We have people sending us court case wins to use when trying to defend ourselves and all this is helping us educate ourselves and others as to what rights we have and how we can defend ourselves against injustices. We continue to hit the road and spread the message that we do have property rights and they haven’t been legally taken away. Like the frog in boiling water, our rights have been slowly chipped away, quietly when we weren’t paying attention until we woke up one day and said, “Whoa, something is very wrong here”.

Have a great 2017!