No ruling in Douglas Lake Ranch access case

'This document is a (government) response to Douglas Lake Cattle Company's claim'

There has been no court decision on public access to lakes on Douglas Lake Ranch, contrary to reports in The Daily News and other local media.

Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club, the provincial government and Douglas Lake Cattle Company (DLCC) are engaged in litigation over access to Minnie and Stony lakes, but the case has not proceeded to trial.

Cyril George, a club member and Shuswap director for the B.C. Wildlife Federation, was misinformed when he told local reporters that a B.C. Supreme Court decision had been rendered in the case.

George may have been confused by convoluted circumstances. What he had in hand was a copy of the government's deposition in the case, not a judge's decision, club president Rick McGowan said Wednesday.

"This document is a (government) response to Douglas Lake Cattle Company's claim," McGowan said. "We haven't had a court case. We're just in wait mode right now."

No trial date has been set and it could be another 12 to 18 months before it reaches that stage.

Public access to lakes on the ranch has been a controversial issue for years before the club decided to seek a resolution through the court.

The club initiated legal action with a petition in mid-April naming DLCC and the attorney general (representing the province) over what it contends is rightful public access to the two lakes. DLCC then counter-sued the club and the province.

DLCC maintains that it has re-engineered the two lakes to create viable fish habitat and that it has stocked them with privately raised trophy trout.

To clarify, here's the chain of events as set out by the company's legal counsel:

* DLCC and the province both opposed the club's petition in form and substance, arguing that it wasn't the correct form of proceeding because it would not allow for full exchange of documentation and information. They contended that key evidence must come from historical documents and expert witnesses, which would not be fully examined in a petition proceeding.

* May 14: DLCC filed a notice of claim, naming the club and province. The company sought an order that the road is private and areas of its property flooded for lake improvement are private property.

* May 17: the province's application to convert the club's petition to an action was heard in B.C. Supreme Court. DLCC argued in support of the province's position. Master Leslie Muir ordered the conversion. Despite the victory, DLCC and the province agreed not to seek reimbursement of costs from the club.

* June 28: the province filed a response to the DLCC's civil claim.

* June 28: the club filed a response to the DLCC claim and a counter-claim against DLCC after deciding to abandon the petition proceeding rather than convert it. The counter-claim became the means of advancing its claim.

McGowan noted that many of the facts presented by the province in its deposition are in accordance with their own arguments.

"They decided to side with us because we're trying to protect a natural resource for future generations."

Angela Davies, the province's legal counsel, was not available for comment on Wednesday. However, DLCC's counsel indicated that the province appears to be taking a neutral position after initially opposing the club's stand.

McGowan said the dispute is about much more than access to two fishing lakes.

"It is the good fight," he said. "This is going on all over. Douglas Lake Cattle Company has locked us out of 28 lakes, not just two. We couldn't fight 28 issues. We hope it will be a precedent setting one. Private landowners shouldn't have the right to lock out the public."

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