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There is a big difference between "Unsanctioned" and "Illegal" trails. The
vast majority of trails in the North Shore were "unsanctioned". It's
troublesome when the concept is misunderstood and cited verbatim in ignorance.
Read here for more
I am writing about a topic that has bugged me for a long time. It bugs me
because the incorrect use of the language is sloppy; stems from poor
understanding of the correct use of the term and in my opinion, sets back the
mountain-bike advocacy movement every time the word is used.
The specific context of this is the North Shore and the use of the words
"illegal" to describe the status of trails when, (for everywhere except for BC
Parks) the correct use of the word is "unsanctioned" or "unauthorized". This
is important because when used in the context of law "illegal" describes an
activity that is proscribed by a law that carries criminal penalties.
It is important to note that no jurisdiction in the North Shore except for BC
Parks has implemented laws that make it a criminal offence to build a trail or
structure on public lands (see citations at end of this article). In North
Vancouver and West Vancouver building trails without permission isn't even
addressed. In Metro Vancouver lands building trails without permission carries
a fine but no imprisonment. Only in BC Parks is there a risk of imprisonment
for riding bikes without permission. Curiously building trails without
permission is not addressed as an offence under the Parks Act. Only the
Forests Act addresses this issue but as there are no active forestry tenures
in the North Shore that point is moot.
The upshot of all this is that it is inaccurate, sloppy and damaging to say
that North Shore trails are "illegal". To use this word paints bikers riding
North Shore trails as lawbreaking criminals when this is not the case either
from a technical legal perspective or from a policy making perspective. Using
the word "illegal" damages the cause of mountain biking advocates, lends
ammunition to those who would curtail biking and paints trail-builders and
trail-users (remember that any hiker, runner, or little kid who puts in a
trail is caught under your lazy, inaccurate use of word) as scofflaws. Again I
emphasize that this is not just pointy-headed academic lawyer speak. Using the
wrong word carries a whole pile of unwanted baggage
Accordingly I urge the use of the word "unsanctioned" or "unauthorized" in the
context of North Shore trails as this is the correct use of the term. If
trails are recognized under a process such as the Fromme trails under the
long-drawn out ARGG process then of course they then become sanctioned
And by the way, they're not land owners. They're land managers. They manage
the land, for US the taxpayer. Get that one right too and stop kow-towing to
EDIT: This short article cannot address other jurisdictions where there may be
indeed criminal penalties for unauthorized/unsanctioned trail building.
American jurisdictions in particular have no shyness about enacting all manner
of laws that criminalize the act of building a trail or structures without
permission. I stress that this is not the case in the North Shore. However the
laws in your jurisdiction may be very different so do not take this article as
legal advice to punch in a trail
Word doc in the Facebook link above has the citations
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