Ontario v. Mar-Dive Corp.

In Salvage and Wrecks on (Updated )

This very interesting case concerned a dispute over the ownership of and salvage rights to the S.S. "Atlantic", a double-sided wheeled paddle steamer that sank in 1852 on the Ontario side of Lake Erie. The competing claimants were the Crown in the Right of Ontario, Michael Fletcher, a diver who had found and marked the wreck in 1984, and various U.S. companies whose principals found the wreck in 1989. The U.S. companies removed various artifacts which they transported to California. They then commenced proceedings in California which resulted in a judgment granting them salvage rights and recognizing their "uncontested claim of title". The California District Court further issued an injunction against Fletcher who continued to dive on the wreck. The U.S. companies then sought to enforce this judgment in Ontario. The Ontario Court General Division, however, declined to do so. The Ontario Court held that the District Court of California did not have jurisdiction as there was no real and substantial connection with California. The Court further found that even if the California Court had jurisdiction the judgments were obtained by means of half-truths and artificiality and as such it would be against public policy to enforce them. The Court then went on to consider the claim of the Ontario Crown to ownership. The Court held that the "Atlantic" had been abandoned by her owners at the time of the sinking. It further held that the vessel became the property of the Crown either as owner of the lake bed in which the vessel had become embedded or pursuant to the Crown’s Royal Prerogative which entitles it to all unclaimed wrecks.