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Fact file: Expropriation rights in Canada

A sign of support submitted by Kathryn Monroe to the "Save Frank and Marjorie Meyers' Farm" Facebook group. Facebook

TORONTO – The story of 85-year-old Ontario farmer Frank Meyers and the farmland he’s been fighting to keep from the government for seven years has piqued interest from across the globe.

“I get letters from France, from Australia, from New Zealand…hundreds of them from B.C.,” Meyers said Sunday at a rally in his support. “I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

Meyers had been trying to keep his land after the Canadian government expropriated more than 200 acres to expand the Trenton military base, but he signed an agreement last November to give it up, saying he felt he was under pressure from the federal government.

What is expropriation?

Expropriation is the rule by which the government is allowed to take your land against your will for compensation, said municipal lawyer Stephen D’Agostino.

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“It goes back confederation in the British Empire, back to the Magna Carta,” he said in a November interview.

“Most levels of government try to buy the land in the free market process first, but if they can’t do that, then they move in using expropriation as a legislative tool.”

D’Agostino said it’s a reasonably common practice in Canada and that all levels of government can do it.

When can an expropriation take place?

An expropriation of land would be done if the land is to be taken and used in the “public interest,” said D’Agostino. Meyers’ situation—in which the land will be turned into an expanded military base for CFB Trenton—would fit into that category.

How long do you have to leave your land?

After you’re given notice, you have 60 or 90 days (depending on your province of residence) to leave and buy replacement land, said D’Agostino.

What will you be compensated?

The expropriation act specifies that if the owner has been forced to give up occupation of their land, the offer can be up to 15 per cent more than market value, to include “costs, expenses and losses arising out of or incidental to the owner’s or holder’s disturbance, including moving to other premises.”

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Can you try to fight it?

The expropriation act requires a hearing to be held to determine whether the expropriation is proper. A report will be filed and submitted to the relevant minister, but the government has the right to ignore its results.

“So if the report said the expropriation should not happen, the minister would read the report and come to the minister’s own determination as to whether or not they would go ahead anyway,” said D’Agostino.

D’Agostino said he’s never seen an expropriating authority decide not to expropriate based on the hearing—likely because they’ve spent so much time and effort in getting the project to move forward. In his professional experience, he typically tells clients the focus should be more on moving forward than trying to stop it.

He said there’s only one other way to fight an expropriation if you felt you had a solid argument and enough time and money to contribute.

“The only way that you could deal with a matter like this (if you thought you had an argument) would be to take it to the courts to have it quashed using the court’s normal supervisory powers,” he said.

What if you don’t accept the offer?

Meyers refused government offers for years before finally signing the agreement, and D’Agostino noted that many clients feel that they can somehow “stop the clock” by not accepting.

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“The way the offer’s set up is the government gives you the money, and then you’re entitled to fight for more. And so by accepting the money, you’re not giving away any rights at all—you’re simply funding your ability to get on with your life.”

As long as the government has made the statutory offer, they’ve fulfilled their legal obligations.

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