Member of Irving family files for judicial review in case of controversial P.E.I. land transfer

Rebecca Irving has applied to the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island, asking it to quash a decision by P.E.I. Minister of Land Bloyce Thompson (above) regarding a controversial land transfer that took place in 2019.

Rebecca Irving and Red Fox Acres both ask court to 'nullify' minister's decision

Lawyers for Rebecca Irving and Red Fox Acres Limited have filed notices of application in P.E.I. Supreme Court seeking to overturn a decision by Minister of Land Bloyce Thompson (shown in photo). (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Rebecca Irving has applied to the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island, asking it to quash a decision by the province's minister of land regarding a controversial land transfer that took place in 2019.

Irving is part of the larger Irving family, which has multiple corporate holdings throughout New Brunswick and P.E.I.

In June of 2019, a company listing Rebecca Irving as its director, Haslemere Farms, became the owner of 2,200 acres of land in the area of Summerside and North Bedeque that had belonged to a family-owned farming operation.

A previous attempt to purchase the same land involving several corporations with connections to the Irvings had failed to receive the necessary cabinet approval.

But in the Haslemere Farms transaction, Minister of Land Bloyce Thompson said the transfer had not been put before cabinet for approval. He asked the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission to investigate, and vowed to close "loopholes" in the Lands Protection Act, legislation that sets limits on individual and corporate land ownership on P.E.I.

Haslemere Farms has since changed its name to Red Fox Acres. Under P.E.I.'s corporate registry, Rebecca Irving is the only person listed under the heading of "directors and shareholders."

Minister says he asked for divestiture

Sixteen months after Thompson asked IRAC to investigate, the commission delivered its report to government in October. However, neither IRAC nor the province has released that report to the public. The minister said he would do so after it's been reviewed by P.E.I.'s privacy commissioner.

Thompson issued a written statement Oct. 27 saying the investigation had found "there are reasonable and probable grounds that two individuals and the corporation involved contravened the Lands Protection Act by having aggregate land holdings in excess of the prescribed limits."

The statement went on to say "the involved parties have received correspondence from government asking them to divest land and become compliant with the Lands Protection Act within 120 days," but the statement did not disclose who those involved parties are. 

There have long been calls for the P.E.I. government to revamp laws meant to limit foreign and corporate ownership of land in the province. A review underway by the current government is just the latest of several over the years. (Government of P.E.I.)

Under the Lands Protection Act, individuals are limited to owning 1,000 acres of land. For corporations, the limit is 3,000. With allowances for leased and non-arable land, those limits increase to 1,900 acres for individuals and 5,700 acres for corporations.

The act also includes measures to prevent corporations "directly or indirectly controlled by the same person, group or organization" from stacking up land limits in order to control more land. 

Minister exceeded jurisdiction, says Irving

Two court applications for judicial review filed Monday, one from Rebecca Irving and the other from Red Fox Acres, ask the court to "nullify" the minister's decision, and seek an interim order affirming the status quo until a final ruling can be delivered.

The two court applications argue Thompson exceeded the jurisdiction granted him under the Lands Protection Act and "erroneously interpret[ed] the provisions of the Lands Protection Act."

The filings also argue Thompson breached "his duty of fairness" to Irving and Red Fox Acres for, among other things, failing to provide proper notice and opportunities to respond at various points throughout the investigation process. 

Jonathan Coady, legal counsel for both Rebecca Irving and Red Fox Acres, sent this statement to CBC News: "The filing made by the company was to preserve its right to court review, if it became necessary to do so. Because the matter is ongoing, the company has no additional comments to make at this time."

The allegations have not been tested in court and there was no response from the minister or the department as of Wednesday.

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Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.