Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary By Peter Lambrick, OFA Director
Many Ontarians love to explore the unique and diverse landscapes throughout the province, including thousands of kilometres of recreational trails. Many of those trails intersect privately owned land including farm operations.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is on record supporting the voluntary nature of any trail-related easement – addressing the areas where public trails pass over private land. But we must ensure the rights of private landowners are not overlooked, especially in the proposed Bill 100 – Supporting Ontario’s Trails Act, 2016.
OFA supports Bill 100 in principal. However, it required more clarity on the issue of easements, trespassing and best practices. We have outlined all of our concerns and suggestions in a formal submission on Bill 100 Supporting Ontario’s Trails Act, 2016 – a bill that also includes amendments to other statutes including Ontario Trails Act, Occupier’s Liability Act and Trespass to Property Act.
We strongly disagree that Bill 100 will impose any trail-related easements on unsuspecting and unwilling private property owners. However the Bill does need clarification on easements that clearly states they are voluntary, solely at the discretion of the property owner, and will never be unilaterally imposed on a property owner. And property owners must be able to specify the terms for easements on their property.
OFA would like to see that any trail organization applying for government funding is required to adhere to trail-related best practices.
The other statutes covered under Bill 100 fall short on two important fronts. Amendments to the Occupiers Liability Act fail to address liability protection for farmers and rural property owners. And amendments to the Trespass to Property Act fail to deliver on OFA’s longstanding requests to adjust and enforce trespassing fines.
As farmers, we recognize the lure of the countryside that brings many Ontarians out to explore the unique and diverse landscape accessible through public recreational trails. Farmers help facilitate this experience. In return, we expect trail users to respect the rights of farmers and private property owners, and abide by trail use best practices.
OFA looks forward to working with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport on the development of best practices for trail use in Ontario.