Some increased activity in the backcountry near the Village of Radium Hot Springs water treatment facility has reintroduced the issue of squatters on Crown land to Radium council’s attention.
“From what I gather, there is a lot of mess up there,” Radium mayor Dee Conklin said. “The biggest concern is are they affecting the land, and are they damaging the land when it’s not their land to damage… is it becoming a dumping ground, and if it is, then that is an issue.”
At a Radium council meeting on Wednesday, September 12, councillors were informed that there was a significant amount of debris in the area, ranging from a burnt out trailer to outhouses and environmental degradation. Reports of conflict between squatters and backcountry users were also noted. Council has directed village staff to inspect the area and return with recommendations, one of which could be to consult with the RCMP or the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources in the near future.
“It is time once again, as winter comes, that you possibly have the ministry look into what do we do with this,” Conklin said. “We’re hoping that a new homeless shelter comes to fruition in Cranbrook, and if that’s the case then these people do have some other alternatives than living in the bush.”
According to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, the issue actually stretches back several years. Ministry Public Affairs Officer Brennan Clarke said that about three years ago ministry staff attended a site in the area and noted three trailers, outhouses, dogs and a couple of vehicles.
“At that time there were no public complaints and no threat to the public or the environment so no enforcement action was taken,” Clarke wrote via email. “The squatters moved to their current location in 2009, after Ministry of Environment staff ordered them to vacate an area in the sensitive Columbia Wetlands about two kilometres away.”
Other concerns regarding squatters living in the area are potential conflicts with hunters, uninsured and inebriated drivers, general unsightliness and proximity to a water line.
“It is illegal for persons to occupy Crown land without authority,” Clarke explained. “The ministry’s Natural Resource Officers (formerly known as compliance and enforcement officers) will visit the site and assess the situation. If it is deemed in the interest of public health and safety or to protect natural resource and environmental values, then enforcement actions will be considered.”
As the land the squatters are inhabiting is Crown land, Radium has no authority in the area, and as such can only appeal to the ministry or the RCMP for aid.
“Some of these people are working people, and should they be there? No. Is it the only way they can make ends meet? Maybe,” Conklin said. “I’d love to see everyone in a proper home if that was possible… I don’t like to see anyone living out in the woods.”
In some parts of Canada, people living on Crown land may have what is colloquially known as “squatter’s rights,” which usually refers to the process of adverse possession, or taking possession of a piece of land after a certain amount of time. However, in British Columbia the Limitation Act specifies that “no right or title in or to land may be acquired by adverse possession,” meaning that the people living on Crown land near Radium have no right to occupy the land in question.