A Saskatchewan judge has put an end to a bitter fight between a rancher and two neighbouring cottage owners over access, through leased land, to their properties.
The dispute arose several years ago over access to cottages built on Murphy Lake, in the R.M. of Loon Lake, about 270 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.
The cottage owners got to their properties using a rough-hewn trail through grazing land leased by a cattle rancher.
There was no issue about using the trail until the rancher heard that one cottage owner was planning to sub-divide and develop his property.
The rancher did not want more traffic on the trail and cut off access.
"Thus began four years of sniping, gamesmanship and legal wrangling," Queen's Bench Justice Geoffrey Dufour said in his decision, published this week.
The dispute has led to a barrage of legal claims and counter claims and allegations of a physical assault involving the parties.
'The plaintiffs have used the machinery of this court to vex and oppress.'—Judge Geoffrey Dufour
Dufour said the dispute ultimately boils down to whether or not the cottage owners have a right to use the trail, or if the rancher is allowed to prevent access.
"[The rancher] says the plaintiffs have no right to cross the land," Dufour explained in his decision. "If they want to get to their properties, he says they should develop the road allowance."
Dufour noted, however, that building a road would be expensive and the plaintiff cottage owners "do not want to spend the $120,000 they say it will cost to make the road allowance useable."
The cottagers did win an injunction against the rancher, forcing him to allow access, but Dufour said that must come to an end.
Dufour said that the local R.M. has since given permission for the cottage owners to build an access route on the road allowance. He said since that would give them a way to get to their properties, they no longer need to pass through the rancher's leased land.
"The plaintiffs have no right to use the road: they are trespassers if they do," Dufour said, noting the rancher has "every right to bar their access by blocking it."
Abuse of process
Dufour added that the cottage owners had been abusing the court process to try to get their way.
"I have no difficultly finding that the claim is an abuse of process," he said. "The plaintiffs’ real complaint is that they do not want to spend $120,000 to develop the road on the road allowance. They should have considered that expense before they built where they did. They now find themselves in a something of a financial squeeze but that is their own doing."
Dufour went on to note that the rancher was made to suffer because of the court action.
"The plaintiffs have used the machinery of this court to vex and oppress [the rancher]," Dufour said. "He has had to expend significant time and money to defend a meritless claim and for four years he has been paying rent on the leased land that they have been using — for free. Justice demands that the oppression come to an end now."
Dufour said the rancher can put a barrier in place if he wants to, any time after June 15.