Bruce Essington lives in a tarp-covered bread truck on the side of Bluenose Mountain. He has been squatting on the same patch of land, not far from Vernon, for longer than any of his neighbours can remember. Sometimes he'd roam about toting a rifle and wearing night vision goggles. Recently he has begun to pay off his land in installments. And now Essington, who owns one faded set of clothes and an old leather miner's hat peppered with holes, has bought rights to about 150 acres of his neighbours' land. For $50.That's awesome. So you could buy an 80-acre lot, but Hobo-Joe can buy the rights to come prowl around your property and create a mine in your backyard, and you can't do anything about it.
He was able to do that because last year the province created an online staking system that allows anyone with internet access and $25 to acquire a miner's license and then, at $0.17 an acre, buy mineral rights to land. It doesn't matter whether that land belongs to a neighbour, the Crown, or the "miner" himself. Once you own the mineral rights, you are free to "explore" your claims, wander the property, "poke at a few rocks," in the words of MP Tom Christensen. And once you decide to start drilling and digging, even the landowner's dwelling and buildings are at risk. That's the law under the Mineral Tenure Act as of 2002, when the section prohibiting miners from "obstruction or interference" with activities (or buildings) on private land was repealed.
The vagueness extends beyond Essington's right to traipse and paint -- the very fact of his claim is somewhat fuzzy. The Mineral Tenure Act has a clause forbidding "nuisance staking," preventing people from staking claims to other people's land for the sole purpose of aggravating them. But the onus is on the surface rights owners (the people who paid for the acreage, the house, the barn, the upkeep, the taxes, etc.) to prove a staked claim is just a nuisance. It's not enough to point to the fact that Essington has no mining history, or that he lacks the cash and experience to run a mining company.