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Province says it's moving to protect property rights by upending 'archaic' law

'This act will bring peace of mind to Alberta's land owners, it'll send a message there's nothing to be gained by squatters,' said Shandro

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The UCP government says it’s giving property owners the power to quash so-called squatters’ rights claims to their land.

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On Monday, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said those who occupy property owned by others will no longer be able to petition the courts to assume that property through so-called adverse possession, or what he called “squatters’ rights.”

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That can occur after someone has openly and continuously occupied property for at least 10 years — a prospect the province, legal experts and registered property owners largely in rural areas consider unjust and outdated.

“Albertans value their land, they work hard to improve it and maintain it,” said Shandro.

“The law should be there to protect property owners.”

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t enshrine such property rights, said the minister, and Albertans have been asking for changes to the law for the past decade.

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Bill 3 would amend three property-related acts and would abolish future adverse possession, but would not retroactively overturn past rulings or those currently working their way through the courts, says the government.

Only private land, not government-owned land, has been vulnerable to adverse possession.

“This act will bring peace of mind to Alberta’s land owners, it’ll send a message there’s nothing to be gained by squatters,” said Shandro.

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After consulting Albertans in rural areas about threats to property rights, adverse possession emerged constantly as a paramount concern, said R.J. Sigurdson, chair of the select special commission on real property rights.

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“Alberta is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada that still has this archaic law on the books,” said Sigurdson.

“There are many challenges facing the agriculture sector and, thanks to the UCP government, this is one battle they will not have to fight.”

The Alberta Law Reform Institute (ALRI), which has advocated for the change, in 2020 listed nine cases of adverse possession filed in the previous eight years, but noted there could be other cases.

Most such cases involve disputes over property boundaries, said the ALRI, which recommended land occupiers who’ve expended resources significantly improving property they mistakenly thought they owned should still be able to seek compensation.

If Bill 3 is passed, registered property owners whose livelihoods depend on their land will now be able to focus on doing just that, said Peter J. Dobbie, a farmers’ and property rights advocate.

“Updating this legislation will . . . ensure the property rights of farmers and ranchers are enshrined in legislation, so they don’t have to waste time and money protecting their land from those making adverse possession claims,” he said.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

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