How much noise must neighbours of a highway put up with?
The Québec Court of Appeal has certified the Carrier class action by neighbours of a
major Québec freeway, the Laurentian Highway (Highway 73) north of
Québec City. The neighbours have been complaining about
noise from the highway since 1985, which (they say) interferes with
outdoor use of their properties and requires them to keep their
windows closed at all times. Even with the windows closed, their
sleep is disturbed and they must endure noise "comparable to
an intense bombardment".
In 1985, the Ministry of Transport agreed to pay half the cost
of a noise protection barrier if the municipality paid the other
half; the barrier was never built. A study concluded that 10% of
the homes received more than 65 dB of noise; 42% received more than
The neighbours eventually commenced a class action, claiming
that they were being exposed to an abnormal level of noise,
substantially equivalent to a claim for nuisance. They also claimed
breaches of the Québec Environmental Quality Act
and the Québec Charter of Rights and Liberties. The
Court of Appeal decided that the case was ideally suited for
collective relief, that the defence of statutory immunity would not
necessarily protect the province from liability, and that an
injunction could be issued if warranted by the facts:
Protecting the environment is a responsibility entrusted to
all citizens, although the state is called upon to play an
increasing role in this area of activity. Noise pollution is no
exception. ... collective action.. creates a just balance between
the people who suffer the consequences of a violation and the
offender, who often has much greater resources. ..
The rules for class actions in Québec have traditionally
been more liberal than those in the common-law provinces, but the
differences between the two regimes has narrowed substantially in
recent years. Accordingly, this is an important precedent for those
suffering noise from any public infrastructure anywhere in
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