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Why it’s hard to win an expropriation fight

By Robert Hof

Frank Meyers, a farmer in Trenton, Ontario, made the news last week about his 7 year fight to stop Canada’s National Defence Department’s plan to expropriate his farm, which has been in his family since before Confederation, in 1798. His case is a good example of how difficult it is to fight when the Government wants your land. The Defence Department wants Frank’s land to build a new training and administrative campus for the Canadian Special Forces Command.

Each of the Federal, Provincial and City Governments have the power to expropriate land. The general principle is that it must be for the greater public good if the government is going to take land away from a private land owner. It also must be finally approved by someone that we, the people, elect. In Ontario, the process is governed by the Ontario Expropriations Act. If the government wants your land, the land owner is entitled to a hearing, where the government agency that wants your land sends representatives to show why it is necessary. The owner can challenge this with his own evidence. The hearing takes place in front of someone called an Inquiry Officer, who is an independent third party appointed by the Province of Ontario.

The Inquiry Officer then makes a recommendation and sends it to the Approving Authority, who is the elected official who will make the final decision. In Frank’s case it is the Canadian Minister of Public Works, Diane Finley. Here’s the problem; even if the Inquiry Officer had recommended that the expropriation not take place, the Government does not have to follow the recommendation; they can take your land anyways. In addition, the Government does not compensate you if you hire lawyers for the hearing before the Inquiry Officer, so you would have to pay these costs yourself. Frank’s land is close to the existing Canadian Forces Base at 8 Wing Trenton, so it does make sense why it was chosen by the Government. You can make the argument that all Canadians will benefit from this land.

In my opinion, the only way to effectively stop an expropriation is to make it political. In the late 1960′s, The Toronto government wanted to build the Spadina (Allen) Expressway, which would have provided an alternate downtown route from the 401 to the City. The City of Toronto expropriated most of the land to do it. But a “Stop Spadina” group of activists emerged who gathered hundreds of thousands of names and launched protests to stop the Expressway from happening. The activists included Alan Powell, a University of Toronto professor, Jane Jacobs, who wrote “The death and Life of Great American cities and who had won the battle to stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway in New York City, and John Sewell, who was elected to Toronto Council on his promise to fight to stop Spadina. The result was that on June 6, 1971, Bill Davis, the Premier at the time, got up and cancelled the Expressway. It is now known as the Allen Rd., and ends at Eglinton Ave. In Toronto. Bill Davis later used this during his own campaign for re-election in 1972, which he won. The issue had become very political.

Frank’s case has now hit social media, and on-line petitions and protesters have come forward to try and still stop the expropriation from happening. I do not personally see this as a potential election issue in 2015, but who knows.

A consoling point for Frank is that the Government must still pay fair market value for his land. Both the Government and the land owner who is affected will obtain separate appraisals and hopefully come to a settlement. If an agreement cannot be reached as to price, it will be determined at the Ontario Municipal Board. For a lot of Canadians, it is difficult to accept the notion that any government should have the right to take away your land. However, in my opinion, if it is demonstrated that it is for the greater public good and fair value is paid, move on and find another property.

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