Death of a Hunt Camp

Evidence suggests that the earliest humans on earth hunted animals, their first tools were weapons. Though the need for hunting has evolved over the years, hunting for subsistence, wildlife conservation and management, protection of property and recreation is still common practice in many places in Ontario.

Hunting has evolved and, like most things, has become a target of government bodies to licence, control and regulate. There are courses and licences in order to use your firearms, you can only hunt certain game at certain times of the year with certain weapons, and you need permits to hunt specific game, and you can only hunt in specific places.

In order to abide by all of the laws and regulations, its common place for families and hunting groups to establish ‘hunt camps’. A hunt camp can be anything from a small shed where you can put your gear and have a camp fire, to an insulated building that can sleep a crew and a kitchen usually with a wood cook stove to cook up a feast for the gang. Hunt camps are not homes. There’s no civic address, no postal delivery, no garbage pickup and generally no hydro or maintained road to the camp.

For most people, going to a hunt camp is a special time. A place to teach the
next generation how to use a bow and arrow or shoot a gun. It’s a place to teach the kids or grandkids how to chop wood, cook on an open fire or wood stove and how to live a life without electronics. It’s a place for friends to escape the stress of life for a while and reconnect with the people closest to you and nature. It’s about a lifestyle and culture as much as it is about hunting. To add to the current government regulation on the hunting lifestyle, government authorities are now also using Google Earth to find hunt camps and go after camp owners for building permits.

In 2007, The Mc Nab family purchased a 300 acre old farm in the Municipality of Mississippi Mills, Ontario. The entry to the farm is not on a maintained township road and the township told them they could not get a building permit. They communicated with the municipal government that their primary use of the land was for hunting and their councillor told them that they could build a hunt camp because the lot was zoned rural. So the three generations of the McNab Family built a hunt camp and worked on food plots to help the local deer population and enjoyed some wonderful years there together as a family. On May 13th, 2016 the McNab family received a registered letter at their home from the Chief Building Offical for the Corporation of the Town of Mississippi Mills. The letter stated that
it had recently come to the municipalities’ attention that there was a building
erected at their home address in McNab-Braeside Township, which was incorrect.

A month later on June 3rd, a second registered letter arrived from the Inspector for the Town of Mississippi Mills with an order to comply, dated May 1st, saying that failure to apply for a permit would result in a fine of $500 per day. The McNab family hired paralegal, Jeff Bogaerts and met with the CBO at the Municipal Township office on June 13th. During this meeting the CBO disclosed that he had discovered their hunt camp via the use of Google Earth imaging. The CBO made it very clear that all hunt camps were being investigated via Google Earth and would be required to retroactively obtain building permits. It was also clarified that the original letter stating that the building was at their primary residence was incorrect and it should have indicated the request for a permit was pertaining to the hunt camp.

Another meeting was held on July 12th with the McNab family, their MPP,
Mr.Jack MacLaren and his staff, the Mayor of Mississippi Mills, the CBO and the local councillor. There was a lengthy discussion about the legality of the use of Google Earth imaging to search for hunt camps, the statute of limitations on requiring a permit, and the interpretation of the building code that is not consistent and can represent a misuse of authority. The meeting ended with it being agreed that the municipality would consult with their lawyers about the legal concerns, and in the meantime, the daily fines for the order to comply would be put on hold until the details of the matter could be clarified by the lawyer.

However, a few weeks later, on July 22nd another letter directly from the CBO was received stating that the order to comply was only being extended to August 12th. The McNab family contacted their councillor directly and were told ‘not to worry about the order to comply’, and discussed how the hunt camp may be grandfathered in and not require a permit, and they were still looking into it.

Months went by with no communication on the matter. No phone calls, no
emails, no more letters.

Then, on October 13th, 2017 the McNab family received a supplementary
property tax bill for $6,730.11, which had retroactive charges and a MPAC re-evaluation of the lot that their hunt camp was on. To this point MPAC, nor any other authorities other than the CBO had been involved in the McNab hunt camp file – so why was MPAC all of a sudden re-evaluating their land?
The McNab family contacted MPAC directly. MPAC confirmed that on June 16th, 2017, the CBO of Mississippi Mills contacted MPAC personally. The CBO brought attention to the McNab hunt camp property, and they used high resolution imaging and Agmaps measuring tools to determine that the ‘hunt camp’ was a 2 storey, 3,140 square foot building with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The McNab family were flabbergasted and explained that this information was false, that the property tax reassessment was incorrect, but were told that the only way they could rectify the problem was to pay the bill, then allow the authorities onto the property to inspect it, then challenge the assessment and be given a credit on their property tax bill if the reassessment was accepted.

The McNab hunt camp file is a classic and frightening example of our tax dollars being used to pay government bodies to spy on our private property.
It doesn’t matter if you built your hunt camp 10 or 20 years ago, to quote the
building inspector, “they are going to paint everyone with the same brush”. Hunt camps are clearly defined in the local municipal act, however do not have a class of their own in the MPAC tax class, and it doesn’t look like that will be changing any time soon.

So if you’re currently enjoying your hunt camp with your friends and family, it
would be wise to spend your next conversation around the camp fire discussing how you will get your hunt camp ready for its building inspection and how you’re going to pay your substantially increased residential property taxes on it.

By Joanne Cooney