Whose Shore is it, Anyway?

On July 14, “No Trespassing” signs went up on a stretch of Albert Beach

By Don Norman
No trespassing signs went up on the Strip of Albert Beach next to Highway 59 last Saturday, July 14. Apparently the owners of the parcel of land were getting tired of litter on the beach. According to a CBC report the Victoria Beach Police department intends to enforce the no trespassing signs but haven’t yet issued a ticket.

It’s become a pretty contensiuos issue and the chat boards are lighitng up on Facebook. People have used this stretch of beach for years and upset to suddenly be faced with these restrictions. I’ve used the beach before, I had always assumed it was crown land but it’s actually been privately owned the whole time.

It’s sad to lose that piece of beach, but I really do sympathize with the land owners in this case. It must be frustrating to have to clear the garbage away because of some irresponsible sun worshippers not cleaning after themselves. And people reported seeing some pretty nasty stuff too – old diapers, used condoms, etc.

The issue was brought up at the Victoria Beach council meeting and Reeve Hodgson said that riparian water rights allows the owners to restrict access to their land because they are responsible for everything up to the shoreline. It was also discussed at the All Candidates meeting at Saffies. The consensus largely being that of the Reeve.

But I looked up the legislation on this. And I had to look up “Riparian Water Rights” – I had some idea about it, but I needed to bone up to write this editorial. Now, I’m not going to pay for your ticket if you get one, but even though the Victoria Beach Police are going to enforce the trespassing restrictions, I am unsure any court would uphold it if the ticket were challenged.

The reason for this is because it seems to run counter to Manitoba’s Crown Lands Act that says that in cases where land extends to the shore of a navigable body of water, 100 feet in from the high water mark is crown land. The legislation is a little dense so, here’s a quote from an easier to digest article in the Western Producer advising farmers on the issue. The article is from 2004.

“Stream and lake beds are crown property. This was affirmed by the 1894 North-West Irrigation Act and by a 1932 Supreme Court of Canada decision. The principle that lake beds and streams are crown property continues in current legislation. Manitoba’s Crown Lands Act reserves the bed of a body of water and a strip of land 30 metres from the highwater mark for the crown. If land borders a navigable waterway, the crown also reserves ‘the public right of landing from, and mooring, boats and vessels so far as is reasonably necessary.’”

I read another source (this one from http://www.bcnature.ca) that said, “As a waterfront owner, you must permit access across publicly owned land. Placing fences or other obstructions to keep the public away from the shoreline fronting your property is contrary to this and constitutes a trespass on your part.” So, while the signs are fine, any physical obstruction could be construed as trespassing on the part of the landowners.
I am not a legal expert and I am by no means advocating disobeying the signs, as I said, I do sympathize with the owners. But, if these interpretations of the law are correct, then it would be pretty difficult to prosecute.