Landowners poised to launch class action lawsuit against conservation authority
By Brandy Harrison
CARP — Imagine: your municipality fails to clear a drainage ditch that runs alongside your property. Your land is flooded and the conservation authority says you can’t clear the blockage because the flood created a protected wetland. You face fines if you ignore their rules.
It’s the kind of sticky issue members of the Ontario Landowners Association (OLA) have been dealing with for years and they’re fed up — so fed up they’re poised to launch a class action lawsuit against an Eastern Ontario conservation authority.
The crux of the lawsuit is that conservation authorities have strayed from their mandate and are overstepping their jurisdiction.
"It’s had serious financial ramifications for innumerable numbers of people. They’re creating their own little dynasty and they have no authority to do that," says Duaine McKinley, a member of the Leeds and Grenville chapter.
The class action, still in the initial stages, will name one conservation authority but Terrance Green, the Ottawa lawyer spearheading the lawsuit, says until 12 people, who’ve taken a financial hit in dealing with a conservation authority, step forward to form a sample class, they won’t know which conservation authority to target.
The landowners went public at the annual general meeting for the Carleton chapter in Carp on May 17. OLA president Tom Black thinks there was plenty of appetite for the lawsuit.
"Every chair was taken and people were standing along all three walls," says the Lanark County sheep farmer, who hopes for over 200 claimants. "There were hands up all over the place. People were calling us the next morning, wondering where they could sign up."
Black hopes the action will result in more government oversight of conservation authorities.
"We can’t just keep fighting them. We have to fight back somewhere. We were searching for how we could push them back a few notches and get their attention and maybe this will do it."