Township gets clarification on liability on Lake Wolsey

MINDEMOYA—While the municipality would like to take some form of action, such as putting up hazardous ice condition signs (when necessary) at Lake Wolsey to curtail people from travelling on the ice to fish, Burpee-Mills Township has been informed by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) not to do so, as they would be liable for similar accidents such as one this spring in which a Sudbury man perished in the lake.

“I have talked to a number of MNR personnel who have told me if we put up a sign indicating dangerous water currents or treacherous ice conditions, it would be an admission of the hazards and it would leave the municipality liable for providing for the safety of the individual crossing the ice or water, and we could be opening ourselves to being sued.”

“We as a council are concerned for the safety of our local residents as well as visitors,” Mr. Bailey, also a member of the Manitoulin Community Police Advisory Committee (MPAC), told the Recorder. “After our last CPAC meeting I wrote a report to coucil and I mentioned Staff Sergeant Detachment Commander Kevin Webb informing us that it would be up to the municipality to post signage in relation to ice conditions on Lake Wolsey.”

However since then, “I have been talking to ministry (natural resources) officials and they have informed me the municipality is not responsible for posting signage. In fact we were dissuaded from doing this, as I was told if we took this action this would be an admission we know there are hazardous conditions and the responsibility could then fall back on us.”

“I also asked if we should be doing snow patrols and was told no, that the municipality doesn’t own the lake and the river bed is Crown land,” said Mr. Bailey.

Mr. Bailey also said that if the township doesn’t own the lake or water bottom, the question should be raised as to why the municipality was charged for 32.7 hours of policing in relation to the sudden death investigation (drowning on Lake Wolsey March 29).

Most of these hours were due to the recent sudden death investigation, Staff Sergeant Webb had explained.

As reported in the April 5, 2013 edition of the Recorder, a Sudbury man perished as a result of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) mishap on Friday, March 29.

The body of 55-year-old Daniel Labelle was found by OPP divers after an ATV went through the ice on Lake Wolsey. OPP Underwater Search and Rescue divers found the body of Mr. Labelle late on the afternoon of March 29.

The OPP indicated that three male anglers were on the ATV when it went through the ice just before 8 am on Friday, March 29. Two of the men were able to get to safety, due to the help of bystanders. The ATV ended up submerged.

Mr. Bailey pointed out there is a sign there cautioning and warning visitors of the potential for bad ice conditions, and asked if the municipality is responsible for something that is marked. Mr. Webb said this would be the case if the municipality had put up the sign.

Mr. Bailey told the Recorder, “we don’t own the lake, it is the MNR. “We can’t say people shouldn’t fish in Lake Wolsey—we like to see people visiting and enjoying the lake and fishing. But I think we need to reach out to the MNR and the OPP on this issue to get more clarification.”

Mr. Bailey also told the Recorder he had inquired of the MNR as to whether the municipality should have received the bill from the OPP for the rescue services. “I was told yes, this is the case, but I was also told a lot of municipalities in a case like this will reverse the bill back to the family whose family member has drowned. No, I certainly don’t think we would ever do this.”

“I was told the MNR can’t take on the right to try to prevent or persuade someone from going out onto the ice,” said Mr. Bailey. “And I asked what responsibility a landowner has, if someone crosses on their property for access to the lake to ice fish. I was told that even in this case it is the person that is crossing property to get to the lake to ice fish that is doing so at their own risk.”

“We’re still looking into all of this,” said Mr. Bailey. “We do not feel liable for anything if it is the MNR that owns the lake and the water bottom is Crown land, and if this is the case we shouldn’t be responsible for the OPP costs involved when an accident occurs.”

Mr. Bailey said a letter has been written by Burpee-Mills Reeve Ken Noland, and sent to Mr. Webb and the OPP Commissioner and MPP Michael Mantha, “indicating we shouldn’t be liable for the costs of an incident like this having taken place.”

Tom Sasvari