Escheat Act Modernization Project


British Columbia Law Institute’s project on the BC Escheat Act is exploring pathways for modernizing and aligning this area of law with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration).

The legal principle of escheat developed within the feudal system in England and was introduced in BC as part of colonization. Within this area of law, land is not considered to be owned outright. Rather it is held of the Crown. As a result, if property has no owner because the previous owner dies without a will or heir or because a corporate owner dissolves, the property reverts to the Crown (escheats).

This legal principle continues to be a part of BC law and it represents one of the ways in which BC law is based on the notion that the Crown holds underlying title in land. Approximately 95% of the land in BC is unceded land, meaning title has never been transferred from Indigenous Peoples to the Crown. However, provincial legislation provides for property to escheat to the Attorney General of BC as the Crown in the right of the Province.

BCLI proposes to work with a project committee of subject matter experts to identify ways in which lapses in ownership of property could be remedied in a manner consistent with Indigenous rights and title.

Stage of the Project

We are currently conducting research, engaging a committee of subject matter experts, and assessing the scope and structure of the project.

What issues are being considered?

This project is still in the early stages. However, some potential issues include:

  • Exploring mechanisms for redress to enable land that would otherwise escheat to the Crown to be transferred to Indigenous governing bodies (IGBs);
  • Consideration of how ownership of such land by IGBs could be classified within the law; and
  • Evaluation of possible alternatives to the restitution of escheated land, such as compensation, as considered by Article 28 of the UN Declaration.

This work will result in a recommendations report for reforming this area of law.

Learn more / Get involved

If you are interested in learning more about this project, please contact Megan Vis-Dunbar at [email protected].

Escheat Act Modernization Project Committee

The Escheat Act Modernization Project is being carried out with the assistance of an expert project committee.

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