Often I walk to the back of our farm and stop at the river that flows through our property to enjoy the sound of the rapids. One day however, I realized with a jolt that the rapids were gone! Fresh piles of rock, gravel, and muck sat on the banks.
I later discovered that my neighbour, who owned a large payloader, wanted to stop the river from cutting west and instead to encourage it to continue flowing north. To achieve this goal, he decided to lower the riverbed. Rapids gone. Deed done.
I knew I had to do something: I couldn't enjoy the rapids anymore; my land was dug up and abandoned; signs of trespass and damage were everywhere; and clearly there was no regard for the environment or the acts and regulations in place to protect it.
Understand your Options and Think Things Through
As an example of several environment and land legal issues, I could use my story to make many different points, but today, let's zoom out to the big picture.
In Canada, environment and land disputes are addressed using three different approaches:
- the courts e.g., Ontario Provincial Court;
- an administrative tribunal process e.g., the Environmental Review Tribunal; or
- by alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods e.g., negotiation, mediation, arbitration.
These approaches may run their courses either one after the other, or all at the same time.
Each of these approaches to resolving your dispute takes you down a different road and can often lead to a different outcome. It is important to understand whether all or some of these roads or options are available then you can begin to answer other important questions. You also need to consider how this process could affect your life. For example, are you willing to take on the stress and cost of this type of proceeding? Do you need to maintain some kind of future relationship with the other party in your dispute? Have you clearly identified what you want out of this and weighed the potential outcomes? Is the dispute worth it?
Understanding and thinking through your options when a dispute arises will help you achieve the outcome you want.
- Do you feel strongly that you need to do something?
- If yes, then clarify your thoughts.
- What's happening that you don't like?
- What change do you want?
- Do you care about your relationship with whoever is causing the problem?
- Could raising your concerns cause other problems e.g., with family, friends, neighbours, community, work, financial?
- Get knowledgeable advice about your options. Usually this means talking to a legal representative.
- Know what you want out of the process, but be sure to find out from your legal representative what you could get (good and bad) out of the process.
- Be strategic. All things considered, do you wan to proceed and what option(s) do you wan to pursue first?
You're probably wondering what happened between me and my neighbour, and to the river. I did go through the checklist above. I sought legal advice and we talked through all of the options. In the end I decided that the relationship with my neighbour was very important to me. I didn't want an ongoing feud so I found non-legal ways to deal with the problem. Today I enjoy my walks and the sound of the rapids in the river. And my neighbour? He eventually moved away and took the payloader with him.