I'd think twice before buying any land in Canada...


Ranchers being forced off land as kitty litter clay miners stake legal claim

VANCOUVER (CP) - It's cost more than $100,000 in legal fees to keep a kitty litter clay mining company off Carolyn Bepple's ranch and as she nears bankruptcy, the courts only point to cross-Canada laws giving miners access to private property.

"We've been to court four or five times, we've been to mediation four or five times. I mean it's ridiculous," Bepple sobbed. She and her husband lost a 10-year legal fight to prevent Western Industrial Clay Products from digging on their property after it staked a claim to the minerals below it.

The ranch, which is crawling with deer, bears and owls and shaded by a forest of fir trees, will be clear-cut and mined for possibly 30 years.

But the company is simply asserting rights set in laws in every province based on statutes dating back to the gold rush, the company's lawyer said in an interview.

The laws state that mining is the first and best use of the land and therefore give mining companies access to privately held land.

"As a matter of law, my client is obliged to compensate the Bepple's for the full value of their property," said Stein Gudmundseth, lawyer for Western Products president Peter Aylen.

"The Bepples will get their property back after it is mined."

The fact that the Bepples have no say in the matter, though they are appealing, is a huge abuse of their property rights, said environmental lawyer Karen Campbell.

She is organizing with a growing number of people in Ontario's cottage country, between Ottawa and Peterborough, who have recently been ousted from their land to help fight for some protection against miners.

"This is a national issue. All you need is to be 18 and pay $25 to get a mining license that allows you to go onto someone's property and stake a claim," she said.

Campbell, who works for West Coast Environmental Law, issued a report calling for changes to so-called free entry laws. It comes at a time when the B.C. government is looking to break down barriers to mining.

In a cabinet shuffle Monday, Premier Gordon Campbell created a minister of state position and mandated Pat Bell to do just that.

"Our resource industries were the critical foundation of our past and they are the foundation of our future," Campbell said in announcing the new post.

As far as Bepple is concerned, that's a fine plan.

She just wishes the government would keep people better informed so they can protect themselves.

In the 1970s, she went to a local Ministry of Mines office in Kamloops and asked what she needed to do to avoid the situation she is in today.

At the time, the clay under her property was not classified as a mineral so she was told not to worry.

The rules were changed in 1989 and Western Industrial Clay Products staked claim to her land before she did.

She said the company did so based on results of well-drilling work she had done on the property for a water well. The information is public.

"I don't know, maybe it's my fault, maybe I should have been reading mining papers to keep on top of what the government was planning to do," she said.

But she didn't, and the fight she has had to mount to keep her land has left her a mental and physical wreck.

"I had to go on antidepressants a few times because I just couldn't cope with it anymore. I was just trying to make it go away, but it won't," she said.

"I'm at the point where I don't open mail anymore, I let my husband deal with that."

The couple had a renter on the property, which they use for cattle grazing and selective logging.

Bepple said the woman left because she couldn't take the company's constant visits, asking her when she was going to move out so mining could start.

To think that this is all over kitty litter is "amazing" to Bepple.

Western Industrial Clay Products said it will use the clay under her property to make the very best, which it sells under the brand names of WC Cat, Kozy Kitty, Cattitudes and Wunder Cat.

Bepple could give up and move on, but she said someone's got to take a stand.

The company has laid claims in a number of other spots in the Kamloops and she feels her case could set a precedent if she wins this final appeal.