Land rights group at odds with founder
By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Sunday, March 18, 2012 6:03 PM EDT

The Ontario Land Owners Association and its associated chapters are scrambling now that founding president Randy Hillier has parted company with the group over the issue of Crown land patents as a guarantee of property rights.

A fundamental disagreement has emerged between the Ontario Landowners Association and its founding president.

OLA was shocked recently when Randy Hillier, MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington, released a letter saying that Crown land patents are a legal dead end when it comes to guaranteeing property rights.

Hillier’s remarks have elicited rebukes from the OLA membership and a statement from president Tom Black that OLA stands by its policy.

“From the OLA perspective, the Land Patent/Crown Grants are legal contracts that are still valid in today’s modern world,” Black said in a news release. “The Ministry of Natural Resources still takes our money and sends us certified copies that state, in fact, that the grants’ duration and effects are 'forever.’”

OLA is heavily invested in Crown patents as a bulwark against government interference in the use of private property. OLA representatives have touted Crown patents as such at numerous public meetings across the province in recent years, including a well-attended gathering in Langton in 2011.

A land patent is the document that formally transferred ownership of land in Ontario from the Crown to its first private owner. Most date from the late 1700s and early 1800s. The patents stipulated the conditions under which the new owners could use their property.

The vast majority of these documents pre-date the formation of the Province of Ontario and Confederation. As such, OLA and some in the legal community maintain that they supersede the authority of Queen’s Park and Ottawa. The debate has wide-ranging implications for a host of laws, including the Building Code, municipal zoning regulations, the Endangered Species Act, regulations governing the development of privately-owned wetlands, and tree-cutting bylaws among others.

Thursday, Hillier noted that Crown patents have failed as a defence in two recent court cases that challenged the authority of senior governments to regulate private land. Hillier likened the Crown patent defence to “quicksand and mythical fairy tales.”

“People who think there is a silver bullet are misguided and misinformed,” Hillier said. “I don’t want people to think I’m supportive of a defence that doesn’t exist and will lead to greater injury to them if they continue to use it in a court of law.”

Some on OLA’s website Rural Revolution are not pleased with Hillier’s position. Posters have used words like “sellout” and “disgusting.” Another pointed out that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly safeguards all rights that were in place when the document was adopted in 1982.

John Van Daele of Courtland, a past president of the Oxford-Norfolk-Elgin Landowners Association, said Hillier’s intervention could cause problems for the organization.

“I’ve always stood by Randy,” Van Daele said Thursday. “He’s a smart cookie. If he doesn’t support it, it doesn’t look good.”

Hillier says the only way to protect property rights in Ontario is to have them explicitly enshrined in the constitution. Proper legislation would champion the right to enjoy property while guaranteeing fair and just compensation if it has to be expropriated.

Hillier noted that Canada along with Australia are the weakest of all western democracies when it comes to the protection of property rights. Enjoying the highest ratings, he added, are the Netherlands and Israel.

Hillier denies he has spoken out on the issue due to pressure from his colleagues.

“Asking the question is ridiculous,” he said. “I am my own man with my own thoughts and my own opinions. That will never change. There has been absolutely no pressure on me from the Progressive Conservative party.”

Monte Sonnenberg

519-426-3526 ext. 150


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