A gate closes off a forestry service road near Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror

A gate closes off a forestry service road near Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror

Kitteringham: Vancouver Islanders need the Right to Roam

Change the law and give people the right to explore unhindered

We need the Right to Roam in B.C.

I spend a lot of my time exploring the hundreds of kilometres and thousands of acres of Vancouver Island. Increasingly, I am running into a lot of “No Trespassing” signs and closed gates.

Under B.C.’s laws, I can legally “enter, traverse over or be present upon Crown land.” However, that permission does not extend to Crown Land that is within a lease, conservation land or “Crown land area, including private roads, which are posted or otherwise signed to prohibit all or some activities.”

That means that my ability to explore is limited to places that companies allow me to be.

The Right to Roam would give people the right to access public and privately owned lands for the purpose of education and recreation. It would mean no more gates on roads, no “No Trespassing” signs and the ability to explore, no matter who owns the land they’re exploring on.

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I’ve been following the saga of the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, watching as the company has fought to keep the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club out of two lakes on the club’s property. The club came close to winning the right to access the lakes in 2018, but on March 5, the American billionaire owner of the ranch won an appeal challenging the 2018 court decision.

In 2017 in response to the case, then-BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver tabled a bill to give British Columbians this right. “The ability to access and experience nature is a public right, and we must protect it,” said Weaver at the time. However, that bill has been largely forgotten in more recent years.

I’m in my late twenties now, and I’m starting to realize that I’ve never really known a world without “No Trespassing” signs.

The idea that someone else owns and controls the land is so ingrained in me that I don’t question it.

When I ride up to a gate and see a “No Trespassing” sign, I just turn around and leave, letting members of a class I’ll never be able to join decide where I can go, just because they were there first.

Most of the roads in our area are controlled by a forestry company. While companies like Mosaic do post when gates are to be open and closed on their website, that doesn’t go far enough. The Right to Roam would allow us to go to these places and not be at the mercy of the companies that control them.

I can’t go to a swimming hole because the road leading there is owned by a private company who doesn’t want the liability. I can’t go explore roads that some logging company has decided are only for their use. My world is drastically smaller because of it.

The Right to Roam would be a fundamental change in how we approach land use.

It would take power away from corporations and wealthy landowners and give it back to the people in general.

It would be a small step towards fully acknowledging the Treaty Rights of First Nations Peoples. Though not nearly enough, allowing people to access lands that were stolen and stopping the mindset of “protecting what’s mine,” which can lead to violent actions, is a small step to a more free and equitable society.

Having the Right to Roam benefits all people, not just a few owners who can decide about access to hundreds of acres.

It would improve reconciliation with First Nations, help foster a feeling of stewardship and responsibility to the Earth and make us all think a bit more about the impact we’re having on our planet.

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