Decision Date: June 16, 2010
Panel: Alan Andison
Keywords: Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act – s. 131(4); Wildfire Act – ss. 3(1), 5(1); forest fire; preliminary issue; limitation period; extension of time
Joe Kraljic and five other people (the “Appellants”) appealed six review decisions issued by the District Manager, Rocky Mountain Forest District, Ministry of Forests and Range. The District Manager confirmed six determinations that the Appellants had contravened sections 3(1) and 5(1) of the Wildfire Act by failing to properly extinguish a camp fire. The District Manager also confirmed the penalties of $1,000 against each of the Appellants.
The Appellants were on a multi-family camping trip near Gold Bay in July 2008 when the fire started. The District Manager found that the campers failed to properly extinguish a fire in their group fire pit, and hot ash in the fire pit ignited a wildfire on July 21, 2008. The Ministry dispatched initial attack crews and aircraft to extinguish the fire.
The Appellants filed their appeals on April 27, 2010, approximately seven months after the review decision was issued in September 2009, and nine months after the initial determinations were issued. The statutory time limit for filing an appeal is three weeks from the date of the decision being appealed. The Appellants requested that the Commission grant them an extension of time to appeal, pursuant to section 131(4) of the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act.
Before the appeals were accepted, the Commission requested submissions from the parties on whether to grant the extension of time. The Government objected to granting the extension of time. The Appellants submitted that the delay was a result of them being told by Ministry staff that they would need to hire a lawyer for an appeal, and that all costs associated with the appeal process would be their costs. They submitted that it took them months to navigate government websites and do research which led them to realize that they could represent themselves in an appeal and they would not have to bear the costs of the appeal process.
The Commission found that the reasons provided by the Appellants for the delay were not sufficiently compelling to grant a lengthy extension of time. The Commission held that its power to extend the time for filing an appeal should not be exercised lightly. The purpose of the time limit is to provide finality to administrative proceedings, and people are expected to be diligent in pursuing an appeal. The Commission found that both the review decision and the original determinations contained clear and accurate instructions on how to initiate an appeal, including the time limit for filing an appeal. The Commission noted that the Appellants had followed the instructions for requesting a review of the determinations. The Commission also noted that it has a website, and its office can be reached by telephone through the Government’s general telephone directory. The Commission found the Appellants’ claims that it took them months to find out that they could represent themselves in an appeal and would not have to pay for the appeal process were somewhat implausible in the circumstances.
Accordingly, the applications for an extension of time were denied, and the appeals were rejected as being out of time.