Expropriation Law Centre

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Expropriation Law Centre

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What is expropriation?
J. Bruce Melville

In Canadian law, "expropriation" is the compulsory taking of land without the consent of the owner. The word "expropriate" has a French legal heritage. The usage is consistent throughout all Canadian provinces.

In the United States the term "eminent domain" is used to describe the power of the state to take land without the owner's consent and the term "condemnation" is used to describe the exercise of that power. However, the term "expropriation" is used in the State of Louisiana. Not surprisingly, Louisiana has a French legal heritage.

The concept is referred to in the United Kingdom as "compulsory acquisition" or "compulsory purchase".

The power to expropriate is held by many organizations and individuals. The power must be granted by statute. The power to expropriate is not limited to public agencies. It is generally used to allow construction of schools, parks, highways and utilities.

When expropriation occurs, the former owner of the land has the right to receive compensation in place of the land taken. The process of determining what is fair compensation can be complex and time consuming. The expropriating authority will almost always use the services of lawyers, real estate appraisers and other consultants to carry out the expropriation. Owners who do not seek assistance from their own choice of independent professionals will usually be at a disadvantage.

The law of expropriation is found in numerous statutes and a large body of case law. In Canada, most expropriations are carried out pursuant to provincial legislation. However, there is a federal expropriation statute that applies to expropriation for purposes of projects falling with federal jurisdiction.

The federal government and a number of the Canadian provinces have adopted modern statutes which provide a complete code of procedure that must be followed whenever the expropriation power is exercised. For example, Alberta adopted the Expropriation Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. E-13, in 1974. Many cases have been decided by the courts and administrative tribunals such as the Alberta Land Compensation Board. These decisions help to clarify the statutes and are an important part of the law of expropriation.

Links to expropriation statutes may be found on the Statutes page. Indexes to case law can be accessed from the Case law page and copies of cases can be purchased through the Online Subscription Service.

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