Canada: The Court Of Appeal Uses The Right To A Healthful Environment In Interpreting A Contract

The right to a healthful environment was acknowledged in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms1 in 2006. At the time, many wondered whether this right would have some real value and effect or be merely symbolic.

A recent decision by the Court of Appeal, Municipalité de Saint-Luc-de-Vincennes v. Compostage Mauricie Inc.,2 dated February 8, offers some clarification. In this case, the Court of Appeal used the Charter to interpret a contract between a municipality and the operator of a compositing site.

Review of the facts and the Court of Appeal decision

The municipality of Saint-Luc-de-Vincennes (Municipality) appealed a Superior Court judgment that had partially granted its motion for a declaratory judgment and a permanent injunction. The Municipality wanted to stop Compostage Mauricie (Compostage) from treating animal residue on its site.

The issue raised by this appeal was whether the trial judge had erred in concluding that under the terms of a 1995 agreement between the Municipality and Compostage, Compostage could accept any organic input that could be used in producing compost, whether plant or animal.

At trial, the judge had admitted evidence showing that when this agreement was negotiated, the Municipality had expressed concern about environmental quality and the well-being of its residents, and there was no expectation that organic animal matter would ever be involved. Nevertheless, the judge had concluded that the terms of the agreement covered both plant and animal waste.

The Court of Appeal reversed this judgment, stating that the conclusion could not be reconciled with the evidence, which clearly demonstrated that the discussions between the parties had involved composting plant residue only. The Court also held that the organic matter contemplated by the agreement was plant material, not animal, by interpreting the terms of the agreement with the ejusdem generis rule. According to this rule, because the general expression "other organic matter" was preceded by several specific terms, i.e. "residue of pulp and paper, leaves and lawn cuttings," its scope should be limited to organic matter of the same nature as that stated.

In addition, the Court pointed out that even if doubt persisted about the terms of the agreement, preference should not be given to an interpretation contrary to the objective of preserving the environment, a goal to be pursued by all levels of government. The Court of Appeal noted:

As the Supreme Court recognized in Ontario v. Canadian Pacific Ltd and Friends of the Oldman River Society v. Canada (Minister of Transport), the protection of the environment has become a fundamental value of Canadian society, and a social imperative. Furthermore, the right to a healthful environment has recently been invested with a quasi-constitutional value because it is now entrenched in Section 46.1 of the Charter (...)
The contract entered into between the parties on April 10, 1995 was likely to greatly affect the quality of the environment of the residents of the Municipality. As the trial judge himself noted, the evidence clearly established that the parties had never considered anything but green residue. Moreover, the Appellant, during the negotiations, was strongly concerned about preserving the quality of life for its citizens and was especially concerned about odours emanating from the process at issue. In my opinion, even if doubt persisted as to the interpretation to give Section 4, an interpretation that would be contrary to the objective of preserving the environment, which must be pursued at all levels of government, should not be preferred."3 [References omitted] [Our emphasis] [Translation]

Based on this interpretation, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment of the first instance and issued an injunction forcing Compostage to stop receiving and treating residues of animal origin on its site, despite the fact that the company had obtained a certificate of authorization from the Ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et des Parcs allowing it to do so.

It should be noted that the Court invoked the right to a healthful environment in support of its interpretation of a contract entered into in 1995 even though this right was included in the Charter only in 2006, an approach that seems contrary to the usual rules of interpretation. This reference to Section 46.1 of the Charter has to be considered an obiter.


Little has been said so far about Section 46.1 of the Charter, which sets out the right to live in a healthful environment that is respectful of biodiversity.

This section, which appears in Chapter IV "Economic and Social Rights," is not affected by Section 52 of the Charter, which provides that "No provision of any Act, even subsequent to the Charter, may derogate from Sections 1 to 38, except so far as provided by those sections, unless such Act expressly states that it applies despite the Charter." This means that Section 46.1 does not take precedence over other laws or enjoy a special status. The courts do not have the right to overturn laws that are incompatible with the social and economic rights provided for in Chapter IV of the Charter.4

Furthermore, the right to a healthful environment as provided for in Section 46.1 of the Charter exists only to the extent of and in accordance with the standards provided by law. It is thus reasonable to claim that the limits of the right to a healthful environment are specifically those provided for in the Environmental Quality Act,5 an approach that is, moreover, consistent with the definition of the right to environmental quality provided for in Section 19.1 E.L.Q.6

Whatever the real scope of Section 46.1 of the Charter, this Court of Appeal decision illustrates the growing importance the courts attribute to the preservation of the environment. It will be interesting to see how Section 46.1 of the Charter is concretely applied to various matters submitted to the courts in the years to come and how the scope of the provision is defined.


1 R.S.Q., c. C-12, Section 46.1 (Charter).

2 2008 QCCA 235.

3 Idem., para. 46 and 47.

4 Béliveau St-Jacques v. Fédération des employées et employés, [1996] 2 C.S.R. 345 and Gosselin v. Québec (Attorney General), [2002] 4 C.S.R. 429.

5 R.S.Q. c. Q-2 (hereinafter "E.Q.L.").

6 Section 19.1 of the E.Q.L reads as follows: "19.1. Every person has a right to a healthy environment and to its protection, and to the protection of the living species inhabiting it, to the extent provided for by this Act and the regulations, orders, approvals and authorizations issued under any section of this Act and, as regards odours resulting from agricultural activities, to the extent prescribed by any standard originating from the exercise of the powers provided for in subparagraph 4 of the second paragraph of Section 113 of the Act respecting land use planning and development (chapter A-19.1)." [emphasis added]

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.