Fierce fighting continues to rage following a flare-up of a decades-old conflict in the Caucasus region of south-eastern Europe.
Dozens of deaths have been reported in battles between forces fighting for Armenia and Azerbaijan.
At the heart of the conflict is a dispute over control of the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
It is recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since a war ended in 1994.
Tens of thousands of people died during the war and a million others were forced to leave their homes.
Other countries are concerned that the latest fighting could spill out of the region and draw in neighbouring powers, including Turkey, Russia and Iran.
They are also keen to maintain stability because gas and oil pipelines that supply the world run through the area.
What is behind the conflict?
The latest intense fighting began on Sunday with both Armenia and Azerbaijan blaming each other for the escalation.
Both parties said they had mobilised more soldiers and declared martial law in some areas.
The fighting is the heaviest seen in the conflict since 2016, when at least 200 people were killed in clashes.
Turkey has already declared its support for Azerbaijan, while Russia – which has military bases in Armenia but is also friendly with Azerbaijan – called for an immediate ceasefire.
Armenia has accused Turkey of providing direct military support to help Azerbaijan gain control of territory, a claim denied by Azerbaijan.
On Monday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Armenia must immediately end its “occupation” of the region, which he said would end the long crisis.
In a BBC interview, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan accused Azerbaijan of sabotaging a peaceful settlement to the conflict and insisted Armenia must defend the region.
A spokesperson for Azerbaijan’s presidential administration told the BBC that his country was taking “counter-measures” against provocations by Armenia.
Nagorno-Karabakh – key facts
A mountainous region of about 4,400 sq km (1,700 sq miles)
Traditionally inhabited by Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks
In Soviet times, it became an autonomous region within the republic of Azerbaijan
Internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but majority of population is ethnic Armenian
An estimated one million people displaced by war in 1988-1994, and about 30,000 killed
Separatist forces captured some extra territory around the enclave in Azerbaijan in the 1990s war
Stalemate has largely prevailed since a 1994 ceasefire
Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan
Russia has military bases in Armenia
What’s the latest from the battlefield?
On Monday, authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, who are backed by Armenia, said another 28 of their soldiers had been killed. They had reported 16 fatalities and more than 100 people wounded on Sunday.
Armenian authorities said 200 Armenians were wounded, according to Interfax.
Azerbaijan said two Azeri civilians were killed on Monday, following the deaths of five people from the same family died on Sunday. It added that 30 civilians were wounded.
Nagorno-Karabakh authorities said their forces had reclaimed some territory taken by Azeri troops on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s government said on Monday that it had occupied strategically important locations in the disputed region.
In July, at least 16 people died in border clashes, prompting the largest demonstration in years in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, where there were calls for the region’s recapture.
The international reaction
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “extremely concerned”, urging both sides to stop fighting
Russia’s foreign minister held urgent talks both with the Armenian and Azeri leadership
France, which has a large Armenian community, called for an immediate ceasefire and dialogue
Iran, which borders both Azerbaijan and Armenia, offered to broker peace talks
President Donald Trump said the US was seeking to stop the violence
What’s the background?
In 1988, towards the end of Soviet rule, Azerbaijani troops and Armenian secessionists began a bloody war which left Nagorno-Karabakh in the hands of ethnic Armenians when a truce was signed in 1994.
Tens of thousands died in fighting, and many ethnic Azerbaijanis were forced to flee their homes.
It is now a de facto independent region, relying heavily on support from Armenia. But it is not recognised by any UN member, including Armenia.
Swathes of Azeri territory around the enclave are also under Armenian control.
Negotiations have so far failed to produce a permanent peace agreement, and the dispute in the region remains one of post-Soviet Europe’s “frozen conflicts”.
Karabakh is the Russian rendering of an Azeri word meaning “black garden”, while Nagorno is a Russian word meaning “mountainous”. Ethnic Armenians prefer to call the region Artsakh, an ancient Armenian name for the area.
Over the years both sides have had soldiers killed in sporadic breaches of the ceasefire. Landlocked Armenia has suffered severe economic problems due to the closure of borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Russia, France and the US co-chair the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Minsk Group, which has been attempting to broker an end to the dispute.
Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, said on Sunday that Trump had already narrowed his list and was “prepared to make a nomination very soon.” Trump is expected to announce a nominee later this week, and has said he will choose a woman.
“It’s certainly possible” a nominee could be confirmed before Election Day, Short told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.” “But I think that the president’s obligation is to make the nomination. We’ll leave the timetable to Leader McConnell.”
Democrats have mounted an intense pressure campaign amid McConnell’s stated intention to fill the vacancy immediately, noting that Senate Republicans blocked Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia in 2016, Merrick Garland, from being considered. At the time, Republicans said it was too close to an election for a Senate and White House controlled by different parties to process a Supreme Court nomination.
On Sunday afternoon, Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, appealed to the handful of Republican senators who control the fate of the next nomination.
“Please follow your conscience,” Biden said in a speech in Philadelphia. “Don’t vote to confirm anyone nominated under the circumstances President Trump and Senator McConnell have created. Don’t go there. Uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience, let the people speak. Cool the flames that have been engulfing our country. We can‘t ignore the cherished system of checks and balances.”
Democratic lawmakers earlier in the day noted that Election Day is only six weeks away and early voting has already begun in several states. Ginsburg’s absence leaves the court with a 5-3 split in favor of conservatives, and the high court is set to take up a case that could determine the fate of Obamacare just one week after the election.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told POLITICO that Republicans essentially created a new rule in 2016 that the Senate should wait to advance a Supreme Court nominee in the final year of a presidential term, and that Democrats are united in holding them to that.
“It doesn’t really matter who it is,” he said of the future nominee. “We are unified in the proposition that we want to hold the Republicans to their word, and we will not entertain a nominee until after Inauguration Day.”
Senate Democrats have limited tools at their disposal as the minority party. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate GOP conference, was adamant that the process would move forward this year.
“The president is going to make a nomination,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.” “We will hold hearings, and there will be a vote on the floor of the United States Senate this year.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas went even further, insisting that confirming a nominee before the Nov. 3 election was “the right thing to do.” Cruz cited in 2016 “a long tradition” of not considering Supreme Court nominees in an election year.
At least three Republicans recalled on the Sunday shows that there have been 29 vacancies in a presidential election year, and that presidents named a nominee all 29 times. The big difference, Cruz told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” is that the Senate traditionally confirms that nominee when the Senate majority and president are members of the same party.
“It’s not just simply your party, my party,” he said. “The reason is, it’s a question of checks and balances. In order for a Supreme Court nomination to go forward, you have to have the president and the Senate.”
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said it’s “too soon to say right now” whether Republicans would confirm a nominee before the election, but he insisted the Senate would move forward “without delay,” echoing the president’s language.
“In 2014, the American people elected a Republican majority to the Senate to put the brakes on President Obama’s judicial nominations. In 2018, we had a referendum on this question,” Cotton told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” citing the contentious confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“There could not have been a clearer mandate, because the American people didn’t just reelect Republicans. They expanded our majority,” Cotton said. “They defeated four Democratic senators who voted against Justice Kavanaugh. They reelected the one Democratic senator who did vote for Justice Kavanaugh.”
Democrats who appeared on the Sunday shows were uniformly opposed to the Senate’s advancing Trump’s future nominee, especially given that polling shows Biden currently favored to win the election and Democrats could regain control of the Senate.
But the party appeared to try several different tacks rather than one unified strategy. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said he would personally appeal to his Republican colleagues, who he suggested should respect the 2016 precedent they set. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former President Bill Clinton both recalled that President Abraham Lincoln allowed the election to occur before making a Supreme Court nomination when a vacancy opened this close to Election Day.
And Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said the president’s rush to nominate a replacement was evidence that he is more focused on crushing the Affordable Care Act than the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans.
Pelosi shut down the possibility of Democrats leveraging government funding to slow down the Senate’s confirmation process but did maintain that Democrats have “arrows in our quiver” to stop the Senate from advancing a nominee. She declined, however, to discuss their options.
“People have something at stake in this decision and how quickly the president wants to go,” Pelosi said on “This Week.” “I don’t think they care about who said what when and all the rest of that, but they do care about their own health and well-being and the financial health and well-being of their families.”
NPR reported on Friday that Ginsburg had dictated to her granddaughter, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Republicans have largely dismissed that desire.
“She’s certainly a giant upon whose shoulders many will stand, and she blazed a trail for many women in the legal profession,” said Short, the vice president‘s chief of staff. “But the decision to nominate does not lie with her.”
Clinton, who nominated Ginsburg to the high court and appeared on three programs Sunday, said it would be worth waiting to see whether people care that several senators, including some up for reelection this fall, are going to go against their positions from 2016.
“It would be very interesting to see whether their position could only be justified as: ‘If my party can do it, now I’m for it. If their party can do it, then I’m against it,” Clinton said on “This Week.” “And if that’s the rule of life in America, then who knows what the consequences will be.”
Marianne LeVine and Christopher Cadelago contributed to this report.
TORONTO — Canada’s highest court will be asked to weigh in on a ruling that reopened the door for people accused of violent crimes to argue they were so intoxicated they had lost control of what they were doing.
The decision angered some women, and in a statement on Saturday a spokeswoman for Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey said the prosecution wanted the top court to hear a challenge to it.
“I can confirm that the Crown will be seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Jenessa Crognali. “It would be inappropriate to comment further as the matters are before the court.”
Crognali said the notice of leave to appeal had yet to be filed.
I can confirm that the Crown will be seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada
In overturning the convictions of two men in separate cases, the Court of Appeal on Wednesday struck down a decades-old section of the Criminal Code as unconstitutional.
The men, Thomas Chan and David Sullivan, had either killed or injured close relatives. Both were high on drugs — one had eaten magic mushrooms, the other had tried to kill himself with an overdose of a prescription stop-smoking medication.
Evidence was that both became psychotic and went on a violent rampage. Their defence, however, ran afoul of the ban on arguing self-induced extreme intoxication had resulted in their “automatism.”
The federal government had enacted the law in 1995 amid a backlash over a court ruling that recognized drunkenness could be raised to defend against a sexual assault charge.
“(The law) enables the conviction of individuals for acts they do not will,” the Appeal Court said in striking down Section 33.1.
While such cases are rare and successfully raising an intoxication defence would be difficult, critics argued it had undermined a measure aimed at protecting women from sexual violence.
“We are dismayed that women’s rights to equality and dignity are not given more adequate treatment,” the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund said of the ruling. “It also risks sending a dangerous message that men can avoid accountability for their acts of violence against women and children through intoxication.”
Both federal and Ontario New Democrats had urged an appeal.
I can confirm that the Crown will be seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada
However, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said concerns the court had reopened floodgates for men accused of violence to argue intoxication were unwarranted.
For one thing, an accused would still have the difficult task of proving they were in a state of automatism to raise the extreme intoxication defence successfully. Simply claiming to have been drunk wouldn’t cut it.
Cara Zwibel, a director with the liberties association, said the ruling had not undermined the rights of victims.
“This is a rarely used provision,” Zwibel said. “It’s not this widespread, systemic concern.”
Neither the association nor the legal fund, both interveners in the case, had any immediate comment on the proposed appeal on Saturday.
The approach of Victoria Day long weekend — the starting pistol for cottage travel for many in Ontario and across the country — coinciding with a deadly pandemic brings fear of “a civil war” between cottagers and residents of Canada’s waterfront regions.
With concerns that cottage owners from cities with higher COVID-19 caseloads may spread the coronavirus or drain the small grocery and health-care resources of rural communities, the usually warm welcome for summer residents is in a deep chill.
“There is lots of tension between the seasonal and the permanent residents,” said Chris Peabody, mayor of Brockton, Ontario, 190 kilometres northwest of Toronto, which is bisected by the Saugeen River, popular with canoeists and anglers.
“We do not want to start a civil war with our cottagers.”
For some, conflict is already here.
There are some people who are fearful for their lives. They’re really scared
Some popular destinations have issued a ban against cottage owners coming to their property; others discourage cottagers by shutting off their water or closing boat ramps. Others are just pleading with cottagers to stay away.
“It’s a struggle we are all facing as mayors. It is not fun times,” said Mitch Twolan, mayor of Huron-Kinross in southwestern Ontario, which includes a stretch of Lake Huron waterfront. In March he ordered water service to seasonal properties shut off.
“I get it: people want to get away to some form of semblance of their regular life, to put everything else behind. But that’s where the angst is, because for their self-comfort and their mental health and wellbeing they come and they put their thoughts ahead of people who are here year-round.
“There are some people who are fearful for their lives. They’re really scared. We do have folks that decided that, in their best interests they have a right, because they’re a taxpayer, to drive back and forth. So you try to make a decision, it’s the not the most popular decision all the time.”
For Twolan, it is not theoretical.
He said a cottager from Kitchener-Waterloo region was treated in the area’s hospital in Kincardine and later tested positive for COVID-19, sending three or four nurses home for 14 days of quarantine.
“That was what we are all scared of and it happened,” Twolan said.
Many seasonal property owners are pushing back.
Bill Armstrong, who lives in Aurora, north of Toronto, owns a cottage on Horse Island in Carling Township, not far from Ontario’s Killbear Provincial Park, which requires a boat to get to. The municipality has closed boat ramps, leaving him unable to get to his second home, he said.
In response, he is sending regular “invoices” to the township for its “rental” of his cottage at $1,500 a week. He said he also plans to hold the township liable for preventing him from checking his property after the winter, as his insurance policy requires.
“We’re all just fuming,” he said. He warned that if cottagers aren’t welcome now, cottagers might not want to spend their money in the communities in the future.
Allane Andrusko, a cottage owner in Prince Edward County, said if the municipality bans cottagers from their property it will spark a legal fight.
“I will initiate a small claims court action requesting a refund of all fixed costs for the period they told me to stay away and then ordered me to stay away. This includes taxes, insurance and hydro.”
David Kreaden, a Toronto medical doctor and cottage owner, argued it is safer to stay in his cottage.
“It is much easier to isolate in the cottage setting than it is in a high-rise in Toronto having to use the elevator multiple times a day,” he said. He disputed suggestions he might be a burden on local health care if he has COVID-19: “I daresay it would prompt a quick return to the city.”
Complaints of seasonal owners are not drawing sympathy from many permanent residents.
“We don’t need any extra pressures on our modest hospitals,” said Brian Burke, a resident of Norfolk County in southern Ontario, where the medical officer of health has issued an emergency health order banning seasonal owners from occupying their property.
“Staring at our COVID numbers the past few weeks, the thought of even something as simple as someone from out of town falling off their bicycle and breaking their arm is terrifying — we simply don’t have any room for error here.”
We’re all just fuming
Other residents use social media to try to shame out-of-towners by posting photos of tourists stocking up in local stores.
Cottage country mayors are looking to the Ontario government to bring province-wide rules before the Victoria Day weekend, several said.
Premier Doug Ford, who will be speaking with cottage country mayors this week, said he won’t bring in a ban.
“You have to give a little leniency. If you put down the hammer and say you just aren’t coming, well, people aren’t going to listen,” Ford said.
That sentiment is reflected in a memo dated May 3 from Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer, sent to municipal medical officers of health, obtained by National Post.
“My current recommendation is to not prohibit access to secondary residences through legal order, but to continue to provide communications that discourage their use,” it says.
Williams also advised against medical officers of health issuing broad prohibitions against access to seasonal property under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, as was done in Haldimand and Norfolk counties.
Ford said his a message to cottage country is: “Be prepared, people are coming up on May the 24th.”
MERRITT — When most Canadians come across “No Trespassing” signs, they stop in their tracks and turn around, often in disappointment.
But not everyone gives up.
A few enter into decades-long battles, like the one against B.C.’s giant Douglas Lake Cattle Company, owned by one of America’s richest people, Stan Kroenke. And the lesson these diehards have been able to pass on is that “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs in Canada, despite being posted almost everywhere, are often not worth the plastic, wood or metal they’re printed on.
“Most of the no-trespassing signs you see in B.C. are illegal,” says Rick McGowan, as we travel over a gnarled, grassy track on the magnificent Douglas Lake ranch. This is not just any path, however. McGowan and his allies in the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club have shown in court it is a public right-of-way, even though it crosses the billionaire’s property.
The track leads to peaceful Stoney Lake, one of dozens of public bodies of water in the Cariboo-Chilcotin that locals, including Indigenous people, were able to fish on not long ago, but which have since been blockaded off by landowners.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves has ruled, however, that the American billionaire and his hired hands can no longer keep Stoney or nearby Minnie Lake, which are Crown property, behind locks, gates and no-trespassing signs.
The Nicola Valley club’s case against the Douglas Lake Cattle Company is a boon to Canadians who love the outdoors and seek rightful access to wild places.
McGowan, an easygoing but tough-talking man, is making a point of taking me over some of the long-obstructed public rights of way that lead to Stoney Lake on Kroenke’s ranch. The property is bigger than Metro Vancouver. It’s not only Canada’s largest ranch, it’s the biggest privately owned chunk of property anywhere in B.C.
“Pretty well all the no-trespassing signs around here are shot to s — t,” says McGowan, 67, who spent much of his career with the B.C. Highways Ministry mapping every metre of every road and right-of-way running through the stunning rolling hills southeast of Merritt.
“I’ve surveyed every road in the district. And I knew they were being locked illegally,” says McGowan, whose unique expertise is part of the reason Justice Grove called him an “impressive witness” and took him so seriously as an impartial “public-interest” litigant.
To put it another way, McGowan and his comrades are not in this for the money. Yet McGowan has been arrested three times by the local RCMP though never convicted. The judge criticized the police for their insidious collaboration with Kroenke’s ranch staff. B.C. government bureaucrats and politicians were also bitten by the judge’s rebukes.
Even though the Douglas Lake ranch conflict has huge implications in its own right for access to wilderness, the Nicola Valley club’s concerted response to the reclusive billionaire’s efforts to lock out the people of B.C. is part of a much bigger movement.
That movement has been called “the freedom to roam” or “the right of public access to the wilderness.” It’s a centuries-old campaign by walkers, fishers, recreational users and other ordinary people to gain justified access to lakes, streams, mountains and wilderness, while showing respect for private property.
Sometimes campaigners try to gain access to government-owned lakes and rivers that end up surrounded by private land, which is the situation in the Nicola Valley case. Other times they battle to forge designated trails through “uncultivated” private property itself.
The freedom to roam is well advanced in Scotland, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and other nations, where it’s possible to walk pastoral routes that wend their way through a blend of public and private land for hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres.
Will Canadians follow the European path?
‘Everything you can see … is owned by Stan Kroenke’
“Everything you can see for 30 miles is owned by Stan Kroenke,” McGowan says, standing at the top of a hill that surveys vast grasslands dotted with horses, cattle, rocks, birds and lakes.
The Douglas Lake Cattle Company is one of many B.C. ranches bought since 2003 by Kroenke, a Colorado-based real-estate baron who owns the Los Angeles Rams, the Denver Nuggets basketball team, the Colorado Avalanche hockey team, London’s Arsenal soccer club and other major-league sports franchises. He is married to Ann Walton, a scion of the family that owns Walmart, the world’s largest company by revenue.
The Douglas Lake ranch — together with Kroenke’s recent acquisitions of nearby Alkali Lake, Riske Creek, Dog Creek and Quilchena ranches — encompasses roughly 5,000 square kilometres of deeded and Crown grazing land. Metro Vancouver, by comparison, covers 2,700 square kilometres.
The Douglas ranch has its own airstrip and fishing lodges. It also surrounds Stoney Lake and Minnie Lake, which McGowan and friends used to fish in before they were blocked by Kroenke, the man often known as “Silent Sam” since he never talks to the media. Forbes Magazine estimates Kroenke is worth $8.5 billion.
Since he owns more gigantic ranches in the U.S., Kroenke put a Canadian, Joe Gardner, in charge of the Douglas ranch and the extremely costly court case against the Nicola Valley club, which has had to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the non-resident magnate.
But Gardner, after 40 years at the ranch, stepped down as general manager in July, just six months after Justice Groves decided against the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, saying two of the Crown-owned lakes on the ranch must be reopened for catch-and-release fishing to the public, even if the lakes are stocked by the ranch. Gardner, who still works for Kroenke, was not available for comment.
The judge’s hard-hitting decision — which criticized Gardner for acting above the law and RCMP members for colluding with him — is a huge affirmation that the Canadian public has a right to cherished water bodies, at a time when many believe governments are failing to stand up to private interests.
Groves accused the B.C. government of failing to respond to Douglas Lake ranch’s unlawfulness. “Over 20 years, a privately held corporation, owning a large swath of land, prohibited the public from driving on the public road, and the province did nothing,” he said.
The judge also rebuked Victoria in a scorching epilogue: “It makes no sense to me that the Crown would retain ownership of the lakes, only for there to be no access.” He urged B.C. politicians to re-examine trespassing laws and “guarantee access to this precious public resource.”
The Douglas Lake ranch is appealing the judge’s decision.
McGowan, who acknowledges he’s “a bit of a pot stirrer,” has long found it both provoking and laughable that RCMP officers have arrested him and many others for fighting for the freedom to fish on public lakes. He’s supported by countless people in the Nicola Valley, Kamloops, Metro Vancouver, Victoria and farther afield.
Their donations arrive by many routes, including at Nicola Valley club picnics, where hunting rifles are raffled. “I’ve been fighting this for over 30 years,” including with Douglas ranch’s previous owners, says McGowan, adding how rewarding it is that he’s been joined in the past decade by the Nicola Valley club and people like his lifelong neighbour, retired school teacher Harry Little.
Little, a soft-spoken 73-year-old, has come along with us for the ride onto the Douglas ranch, where he describes how McGowan and he have frequently cut off illicit gate locks and explains that the overgrown road to Stoney Lake — which bizarrely remains under a highways maintenance contract — now dives under the surface of the lake, since Kroenke’s people have flooded it.
McGowan, leaning his big frame against his white Dodge Ram three-quarter-ton pickup truck, says people often ask him how he can keep going, since they worry the long conflict must be stressful.
But he laughs at the idea, saying: “This is therapy.”
Surveying the near endless hills of the Douglas Lake ranch, he says, “This was all locked for 30 years.” And now some routes are slowly being reopened.
Not that it is mission accomplished. McGowan says there are at least 30 more lakes in the Nicola Valley that landowners are illegally blockading behind gates, boulders and logs.
That includes the former access route to nearby Quilchena Falls, a spectacular waterfall south of the Kelowna Connector highway, which locals decades ago used to love to visit for swimming and picnics. But Quilchena Falls is now also blocked by Kroenke’s vast land holdings.
What, McGowan muses, does one of the world’s richest land barons want? “At the end of the day, I guess the true capitalist wants to own everything.”
The right to public jewels
I have had the pleasure of walking for days on end on trails through Scotland, Denmark, Italy and Wales, which at certain points traverse private land.
The remarkable European hiking and pilgrimage routes, many of which were in use for a millennium, have been reopened in many cases only because citizens fought complex battles for the right to enjoy them. Now they are considered public jewels.
One of the first crusades for the right to cross private land occurred in Manchester, England, in the 1930s. That’s when a rebellious group of young factory workers who called themselves “ramblers” showed just how determined they were to walk in a beautiful, privately owned area known as the Peak District.
The ramblers did so en masse and many, like in the Nicola Valley, were arrested. But over the long run they prevailed. And Britain is not alone in offering the public access to rights of way, including around the edges of farms. Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand and many other countries make a point of offering ordinary people the freedom to roam.
Taking into account local context, each country has carefully worked out viable ways to protect landowners from irresponsible users, who owners fear might venture off designated trails, leave behind garbage, camp without permission, start a fire, damage the environment or sue for an injury.
In Canada, by contrast, private-property signs blocking access to public land abound, thoroughly intimidating the uninformed populace. The Nicola Valley club lawyer, Chris Harvey, says Canadians appear to expect governments to protect their access to the wild. But most governments are doing the opposite.
When it comes to property rights, Harvey says, Canadians are somewhere in between more open-minded European landowners and hypervigilant Americans, many of whom behave as if the right to protect private property, often with guns, is their nation’s most sacred value.
The right-to-roam movement in Canada is slowly gaining legs, however, including in B.C., where even city dwellers feel defined by wild places.
Two years ago, inspired by the Douglas ranch case, B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver launched private members Bill M223: The Right to Roam Act. Even though it died on the order paper, Green representative Claire Hume says it “remains an issue we think is incredibly important and one we would love to see government take on.”
Recognizing the right-to-roam discussion raises “some delicate decision points around traditional (Indigenous) territory and private property-trespass law,” Hume said Weaver didn’t expect his bill — which was intended to make nature “open to all, not just the privileged few” — to pass the way he had drafted it. But he does hope it will spark more discussion in the legislature.
Right-to-roam advocates have never sought unfettered access
The head of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, Calvin Sandborn, is one of many leaders of a loose-knit coalition determined to make it possible for citizens to experience nature by venturing onto private land.
Sandborn and law students Graham Litman and Matt Hulse have created a seminal report titled Enhancing Public Access to Privately Owned Wild Lands, which looks at some of B.C.’s most lively action fronts.
In addition to covering the Douglas Lake conflict, Sandborn’s team is monitoring an effort to create a 700-kilometre walking network on Vancouver Island, called the Island Spine Trail. They’re also tracking roaming disputes on Lasqueti Island, Galiano Island and in Comox.
The B.C. Wildlife Federation, the B.C. Federation of Fly Fishers and B.C. Outdoor Recreation Council have prepared positions on the right to roam. And they’re tracking the many ways recreational users constantly come up against landowners.
To ease landowners’ concerns, Sandborn emphasizes right-to-roam advocates have never sought unfettered access to property. “We don’t want people going through a hundred different trails on someone’s property. Access can be provided in a variety of ways.”
And not only to remote wilderness. The Gorge region of the City of Victoria is also in play. Sandborn’s students have surveyed how property owners have built carports and sheds over public rights of way to the Gorge waterway, which are legally supposed to occur every 200 metres.
Sandborn says when one Gorge neighbour who lived across the street from waterfront properties that were illicitly blocking beach access found out what the law students were doing, he remarked, “’I’ve lived here 20 years. And I didn’t realize until now I had the right to take my canoe down to the water.’”
Metro Vancouver has its own access-to-waterfront issues, says Sandborn — in White Rock and West Vancouver.
Washington state can be a model for B.C.
The University of Victoria report suggests which global jurisdictions could be models for B.C. Surprisingly, given Americans’ legendary emphasis on absolute private property rights, one of them is in B.C.’s own Cascadian backyard: Washington state.
The counties that contain Seattle and Bellingham both offer major tax breaks to owners who make portions of their land available to hikers, birdwatchers, sightseers, horseback riders and other nature lovers, all of whom are expected to follow rules for respecting private property.
Creative things have also been happening at the other end of Canada, in Nova Scotia. That province has long provided citizens the right to cross private, uncultivated land and to go on foot along the banks of rivers and lakes to fish, including with a boat.
Which is precisely the kind of freedom the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club seeks on the Douglas ranch and beyond.
McGowan is playing the long game, but he doesn’t, to put it mildly, trust politicians. He knows his comrades will need help, particularly from younger generations. He realizes his encyclopedic knowledge of roads and property bylaws in the Nicola Valley has been an incredible asset for the local cause, but he also knows most people don’t have the same background.
So, at his age, he’s worried.
As geese fly overhead, he says the access-to-land cause in the Nicola Valley needs “somebody else to pick up the cudgel.” The long-term strategy of billionaire landowners and their ilk, he believes, is to use their immense wealth to hire lawyers and others to wear people down.
“This is their dream: That guys like me will die off. And nobody will remember.”
The Douglas Lake ranch’s appeal will be heard March 30 and 31 in Vancouver.
One witness told Mirror Online: “That’s probably one of the scariest moments of my life. Me and my sister were in a queue to watch frozen, loads of little kids there, all dressed up and everything, then these girls jumped on another girl and loads of these kids just started fighting.
“Armed police came with Tasers. All the people that were fighting run off into the cinema. There’s about 15 to 20 police cars. I’m shaking.
“The police were very aggressive there was lots of little kids there. My sister is 11 and they was pointing the Tasers in our face.”
Another witness said: “This is the most horrifying thing I’ve been involved in I’m scared and I’m 45 little girls dressed in frozen dresses crying and screaming appalling behaviour all over a gangster film set in London.”
Choleigh Mcguire, who was at the complex, told Mirror Online: “I have never seen police so aggressive. Everyone dressed up. They were all crying.
“It was a group of girls started on this one girl. Someone separated it at first.”
People are reporting that around ‘20 police cars’ dashed to Star City to deal with the suspected riot, which is thought to have broken out around 6pm today.
Mr Khan, manager of Pepe’s Restaurant at Star City told said: “I heard shouting and screaming outside the restaurant. I understand a big fight started in the cinema.
“There were so many people running past the restaurant, I’d say around 60 to 70 were involved.
“The police escorted everyone out.
“We’ve heard that the cinema has had to empty the screens and are not letting anyone else in. I guess people who have bought tickets will get a refund.
“Our restaurant is still open, as is the restaurant next door.”
The police are yet to comment on the disturbance.
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Police are redirecting people away from the area and it’s having a knock-on effect on motorists on Watson Road and all roads surrounding the entertainment complex.
People are being advised to steer clear of the area and try to find alternative routes.