British Columbia

Corbett Lake trespassing allegations lead to charges for 6 fishermen

Members of the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club say there used to be public access to Corbett Lake and are protesting private landowners who they say have cut them off.

One company controlling access to lake is 200,000-hectare ranch owned by U.S. billionaire

A sign forbidding ice fishing near Corbett Lake. The fence prevents public access, and six members of the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club were arrested for slipping under it after being warned previously. (Doug Herbert/CBC)

Six people from the Nicola Valley are facing mischief charges on Tuesday after they slipped under a fence with a no trespassing sign on it to ice fish on Corbett Lake southeast of Merritt.

The six were members of the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club who claim the lake is public, but is now fenced off by nearby property owners.

"There's a campaign going on for private individuals to take public lakes away from the people of B.C.," said Rick McGowan of the Fish and Game Club. "Our fight is to bring it to the attention of everybody and try to force the government to look after natural resources for all British Columbians."

The RCMP showed up soon after the men dropped lines into the water. Initially, two plainclothes officers filmed them fishing and didn't do much else. Then two more officers showed up and arrested them.

McGowan contends the RCMP are being used to intimidate people off Corbett Lake and other area lakes and wants the province to stop allowing private interests to own public lakes.

"We believe that the government has a program, or a campaign, to offload anything like a public lake if someone is willing to take the responsibility and costs of managing it … so that government doesn't need to pay the costs of managing it," McGowan said.

Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club member Rick McGowan has been arrested more than once for trespassing on private land to access once-public lakes. (CBC)
McGowan faces charges of obstruction of justice and mischief, and has been charged in the past with trespassing on Corbett Lake.

The crown ended up dropping the charges before trial and he expects the same thing will happen again.

'I would hope that reason would have won the day'

RCMP Sergeant Norm Fleming called the situation "unfortunate." He said the Fish and Game Club members had been warned that Corbett Lake has no public access and that charges would be filed if they attempted to go there again.

"It has been a private corporation and it has been stocked by the Corbett Lake Lodge since 1994 at their own expense," Fleming said. "I had hoped it would not come to to this. I would hope that reason would have won the day, but, you know, these guys are passionate."

Fleming says that if the club wanted to contest access to Corbett Lake, they should have pursued the matter in the civil courts.

RCMP officers moved in and made six arrests at Corbett Lake when six fishermen violated previous warnings. (Doug Herbert/CBC)
Access to the lake is controlled by three companies: Corbett Lake Lodge, Nicola Ranch and the Douglas Lake Cattle Company — which is owned by U.S. billionaire Stan Kroenke.

"It's sad to see it's gotten to the point where somebody's got criminal charges against them," said Douglas Lake Cattle Company general manager Joe Gardner.

"Some members of the local fishing club don't believe what they're being told about private property … I guess the court system will decide what happens next."

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Nicola Valley ice fishers charged after trespassing despite warnings

With files from Liam Britten


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