Private Rights to Public Property: The Evolution of Common Property in Canada

Article excerpt

This article uses the recent Occupy litigation of Batty v. City of Toronto to argue that Canadian courts no longer have a robust understanding of common property and its attendant rights. The lack of judicial understanding of common property is hardly surprising given property theory's focus on private property, particularly individual private property. This article argues that rather than use the traditional analogy of governments holding common property in trust for the public, Batty relies on an analogy of common property which treats the government as an owner. The emergence of the latter understanding of common property can be traced to Supreme Court jurisprudence from the early 1990s. Although the government-as-owner analogy of common property was introduced in a concurring judgment, more recent Supreme Court decisions have since reiterated the analogy. Such an understanding of common property is a clear attempt to force all property into a private property model and emphasize the rights of owners above all other rights in property. This article argues that the government-as-owner analogy is problematic given its emphasis on the government's use of property rather than the public's benefit from common property and calls for a return to the trust analogy of common property.

En s'appuyant sur le recent litige << Occupy " dans l'affaire Batty c City of Toronto (Batty), cet article montre que le judiciaire canadien n'a plus de comprehension solide des biens communs, ni des droits qui y sont associes. Ce manque de comprehension judiciaire en matiere de biens communs est a peine surprenant compte tenu la focalisation de la theorie sur la propriete privee, et particulierement la propriete privee individuelle. Cet article soutient qu'au lieu d'utiliser l'analogie traditionnelle, selon laquelle le gouvernement detient les biens communs en fiducie pour le public, Batty se fonde sur une analogie qui considere le gouvernement comme proprietaire. L'emergence de cette derniere comprehension des biens communs peut etre retracee a la jurisprudence de la Cour Supreme du debut des annees 1990. Bien que l'analogie gouvernement comme proprietaire ait ete introduite par un jugement concurrent, des decisions plus recentes de la Cour Supreme l'ont reiteree. Une telle comprehension de la propriete est une tentative evidente de forcer tout le droit des biens dans un modele de propriete privee, et d'accentuer les droits des proprietaires par-dessus tous les autres droits relies a la propriete. Cet article soutient que l'analogie gouvernement comme proprietaire est problematique puisqu'elle met l'accent sur l'usage que fait le gouvernement des biens communs, et non les bienfaits publics qui en ressortent. L'article appelle ainsi a un retour a l'analogie fiduciaire des biens communs.

I.   Kinds of Property and the Bundle of Rights
II.  Batty:. Parks, Protesters, and Private Property
III. The Rise of the Government-as-Owner
IV.  Bringing Back the Public


"How do we live together in a community? How do we share common space?" These questions opened Justice Brown's judgment in Batty v. City of Toronto and were prompted by the Occupy movement's "occupation" of a park in downtown Toronto. (1) Despite these opening lines, the decision in Batty does not deliver the promised discussion of common space. Instead, Batty repeatedly defers to private property rights or the rights of the city of Toronto in its role as manager of municipal parks. That is not to say that Batty reached the wrong decision but to say that Batty reached the right decision for the wrong reasons, and rather than taking common property rights seriously--particularly the public's right not to be excluded from such property (2)--the case upholds individual private property as the only acceptable way to think about property.

It is the purpose of this article to explore the state of common property in Canada. …