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Landmark Supreme Court victory for uOttawa-Ecojustice Clinic

St. Lawrence Cement Inc. v. Barrette, et al.

November 29, 2008

This lawsuit began when a class action brought by neighbours of a controversial Quebec City cement factory sought compensation for damage caused by the factory’s operation, including noise, odour, and dust problems. Although the Quebec Superior Court upheld their claim and ordered St. Lawrence Cement to pay $15 million in damages, the Quebec Court of Appeal reversed this decision, concluding that nuisance claims could not be brought as a class action proceeding and that only landowners could participate. The Supreme Court decision upheld the original decision and is hailed by the legal community as a landmark victory for the environment.

Represented by lawyers from Ecojustice and the firm of Lauzon Bélanger, the Quebec Centre for Environmental Law and Friends of the Earth Canada intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Ciment du St-Laurent v. Barrette et al. case on March 27 2008.

The groups were challenging the controversial Quebec Court of Appeal decision that would have impaired the rights of citizens to launch class action lawsuits over environmental harm.

What does this victory mean?

On November 20, 2008 the Supreme Court released its landmark decision that both upheld the right for citizens to launch environmental class action lawsuits and settled a longstanding debate under Quebec’s civil law system by ruling that nuisance claims only require proof of “abnormal inconvenience” and do not require proof of wrongdoing or “fault”.

The result is that future environmental nuisance claims will be more easily proven under a no-fault regime, and polluters will have even more incentive to clean up their act to avoid being sued by their neighbours.