On May 3, 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) agreed to
hear an appeal in Ciment St-Laurent inc. v.
Barrette(St. Lawrence Cement). This is the
first time the SCC will hear an environmental class action
originating from Québec. The decision will also serve as
a guide to Québec courts in these industries and have
significant ramifications for businesses operating in
Québec and throughout Canada.
In this case, a group of occupants or owners of residences
located near a cement factory in the Québec City area
initiated a class action. The members alleged that the business
was at fault in operating its plant and that it failed to act
in a good neighbourly fashion. They claimed damages for harm
suffered due to dust, noise and odours which, according to the
members, had reached excessive levels.
At trial, the Québec Superior Court granted relief,
although it held that the cement factory had not been guilty of
any wrongdoing. The court held the view that the cement plant,
as a result of its operations, had caused abnormal
inconvenience exceeding tolerable limits. Consequently, it had
to be held liable, in the absence of any wrongdoing, pursuant
to the applicable rules in matters of private nuisance provided
for in Article 976 C.C.Q.
The Court of Appeal of Québec (CAQ) reversed the
decision of the Superior Court on this point, unanimously
holding that the liability scheme for nuisance claims did not
create a personal right of action and could not be the basis
for a class action. The CAQ also held that liability could not
exist without wrongdoing. The mere evidence of abnormal
inconvenience (which, essentially, stems from a subjective
appreciation of said inconvenience) was insufficient.
The CAQ decided that Article 976 C.C.Q. could not be the
basis for a class action since this provision, in its opinion,
creates rights in rem. A class action, by contrast, is
a procedural vehicle created exclusively to enable the exercise
of personal rights.
After revisiting the evidence, the CAQ reversed the decision
of the Superior Court that the cement plant was not guilty of
any wrongdoing. In so doing, the CAQ laid down a principle
stating that any business must maintain its anti-pollution
equipment in optimal working condition at all times during
production. In this respect, the CAQ attached greater
significance to the compliance or lack of compliance by the
business with the statutory duties provided for in the
Environmental Quality Act (EQA) and, in particular,
Section 12 of the Regulation respecting the application of the
Environmental Quality Act (Regulation). On this basis,
the CAQ held that the action taken by St. Lawrence Cement was
insufficient and that it was guilty of wrongdoing.
McCarthy Tétrault Notes:
Although the fact situation originated in Québec, the
decision goes beyond the borders of this province, raising
issues of national importance such as the protection of the
environment and an analysis of the liability of businesses.
Specifically, it raises the significant issues of:
potential liability of a business for having caused
environmental nuisance to its neighbours;
the extent to which legislative standards in
environmental matters are relevant to assessing such
the role class actions play in environmental
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.
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