The shipping crate news | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (June 30, 2023, 2:34 PM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
As music legends Burt Bacharach and Hal David said, “A House is not a Home.” But is a house a boat? Not after July 1, 2023.

As of July 1, “floating accommodations” are no longer allowed to dock or drop anchor on Ontario public waterways. What sparked this ban is a Joe Nimens who has been constructing structures generally made out of shipping containers and selling them as presumably a poor man’s yacht. Following numerous complaints from cottage country people and municipalities, who refer to these vessel owners as “water squatters,” the government says they can be out on the lakes but not stop overnight to smell the coffee, or rather perhaps the seagulls.

I believe the complainants are just jealous as these structure owners have not invested zillions like them in fancy cottages nor do they pay taxes. They argue for example that these floating things, or “ugly sea cans,” disturb fish and wildlife. Nonsense. What disturbs the fish are fishermen. I doubt some pickerel making his way through the Trent-Severn Waterway is looking around and saying to his pal, “Hey Iggy. Who’s that guy parked here in that thing that says ‘Hapag-Lloyd.”

“Don’t know Ernie. Doesn’t bother me.”

The ban is being achieved via an amendment to the Public Lands Act. Isn’t that bizarre. What does a floating vessel have to do with land? No, there is no Public Waters Act. Alice in Wonderland might say, “This is getting curiouser and curiouser.”

The ban affects “floating accommodations,” meaning a building or structure which is not primarily designed for navigation. In my view many large cruise ships visiting the Caribbean would fall into this category. From my cruising experiences, I believe that all Caribbean islands look alike and have concluded that in reality there is only one island out there. The cruise ship docks there, and the passengers are greeted by a sign reading, “Welcome to St. Thomas” and to sounds of a calypso band and a gauntlet of jewelry stores. The ship sails out about five kilometres or so a few hours later. Meanwhile, the locals change the dock area, putting up a false one-dimensional front, and they text the ship to return the next day. When it does, the passengers are greeted by that same band and jewelry stores, and a large sign reading, “Welcome to St. Lucia.”

To me the ship’s brief saunter out and back does not constitute navigation.

Nimens has in fact registered the structure with Transport Canada as a vessel, defined as a boat, ship or craft capable of being used solely or partly for navigation. Nimens propels his vessel with a tugboat. He says these vessels can have motors.

I say one way of getting around this Ontario ban is for an owner to turn his vessel into a submarine. The primary purpose would be to protect the cottages from any enemy attacks. To do this vessel owners would just have to connect a periscope to their structure. I am not a naval engineer, but I watched the movie Das Boot, and I am satisfied a good periscope will qualify the thing as a submarine.

Another possibility to enable these vessels to anchor down is to turn themselves into de facto lighthouses. Occupants can just attach a good flashlight to the craft when it gets dark. To my knowledge nobody had ever demanded that a lighthouse move.

Just leave these harmless souls alone. I urge the government to reassess its actions against Nimens’ vessels as they could lead to a rebellion.

For example, other owners might defy the ban and become floating accommodation pirates, roaming the waters from Lake Erie to Lake Couchiching. I’d hate to be a Muskoka waterfront cottage owner out relaxing in my hammock next to Lake Joseph and suddenly my repose is interrupted by a gang of cheerful fellows on a large floating shipping container, singing the shanty “Shiver Me Timbers.” It may not be too long until our waters get taken over by the pirates of Peterborough. Ahoy matey!

Or if push gets to shove, they may just move aground and a hitch their shipping container vessels to motorcycles or other vehicles and flood Wasaga, Collingwood and other beach towns in convoy fashion. What would the government do in that case? Ask the feds to invoke the Emergencies Act? Let’s freeze the bank account of that guy who in front of the Blue Mountain chairlift just parked that MSC container.  

And contrary to some suggestions about pollution risks, Nimens’ vessels are safe in that they even come with sewage treatment kits. All the fuss is sour grapes.

I suggest the government leaves well enough alone. View these structures a positive presence. Don’t create waves.

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His just launched book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is now available on Amazon, (e-book) and paper version. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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