Group fights for public access to Ontario beaches
THE TORONTO STAR , Monday, August 12, 2013
An MPP aims to reintroduce a private member's bill that would prevent property owners from blocking access to beaches on Ontario’s Great Lakes
Doug Lorriman looks out the side window of his home in Georgian Bay and can count two fences and seven “no trespassing signs” — all of them intended to block members of the public from using the shoreline in front or behind the homes of several of his neighbours.
The fences run to the water’s edge, and the signs dissuade people from strolling along the sandy beaches.
One six-foot-high fence nearby, on Tiny Beaches Rd. South in the Balm Beach community near Midland, Ont., has been a source of conflict for years, he notes. On top of the fence, which was erected by a neighbour several years ago, is a large sign that reads “private beach, no trespassing.”
A portion of Lorriman’s property is beachfront, and he allows the public to walk along it — “they were doing so when I bought the place,” he says — so he doesn’t understand why his neighbours are trying to stop the public from walking along the beach near their properties.
He’s part of a coalition of citizens’ groups that is rallying behind the Great Lakes Shoreline Right of Passage Act, a private member’s bill launched by Liberal MPP Kim Craitor (Niagara Falls).
In basic terms, the bill says the public should be able to walk along the shorelines of the Great Lakes, even where the paths are in front of or behind private homes.
Just to walk — not to use vehicles, or play sports or picnic.
A group called the Ontario Shorewalk Association is leading the fight. They’re based in the Fort Erie area.
“A lot of these houses with fences and signs are large, palatial properties. The owners argue they pay high taxes which goes to the town’s coffers so they should be allowed to put up the fences,” says Garry Skerrett, founding president of the Shorewalk Association.
“My argument is when you look at the Atlantic shore, places like Florida, you have houses with beaches behind them, but no matter what, when you get to the beach, it’s public,” Skerrett adds.
Other groups involved include Lorriman’s organization, which is called Preserve the Use of Balm Beach, and the Cobourg Beach Society.
Aside from signs and fences, some beachfront property owners have resorted to paying for security guards to stop people from walking along the shore close to their homes, says Lorriman.
The matter has become heated over the years, with fights and vandalism breaking out.
Craitor says he hopes to reintroduce his bill in October. It’ll be his fourth attempt. The farthest it has gone in the Ontario legislature is second reading.
“One person said to me ‘I have a right to my own private beach because I paid $10,000 more for my property,” Craitor says.
But using that logic a property owner could try to block access to the portion of the lake behind their property, Craitor argues.
“There has to be a balance,” Craitor says.
Proponents of the signs and fences have argued that the Ontario’s Boundaries Act gives beachfront homeowners the legal right to extend their properties to the shoreline.
Craitor says he has heard these claims from property owners, but “no one has shown me a deed saying they saying they own property into the Great Lakes.”
He adds that his private member’s bill would not permit expropriation if there are such deeds, but he adds: “I don’t think there is such a (deed in existence).”