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Supreme Court of Canada affirms common law peril for polluters

The peril for a company that complies with environmental statutes but annoys its neighbors has been highlighted by ...


The peril for a company that complies with environmental statutes but annoys its neighbors has been highlighted by a major precedent set by the Supreme Court of Canada in November that industrial operations can be in compliance with applicable laws and their certificate of approvals (i.e., “without fault”) and yet still be liable regarding nuisance claims by the local community.

In St. Lawrence Cement Inc. v. Barrette a class action was instituted by citizens near the Beauport cement plant for annoyances they suffered for a number of years. The complaints related to dust, odors and noise from the company’s activities — described by the Supreme Court as “abnormal annoyances.” St. Lawrence Cement will have to pay the residents a total of $15 million, even though the class action was filed in 1993 and the Beauport cement plant ceased operations in 1997. (The litigation wound its way through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court in November of this year.)

The judgment means that the defence won’t succeed that a company is in compliance with applicable environmental laws, regulations or certificates of approval. Industrial operations will have to examine the “abnormal” annoyances they might cause to neighbours, use imagination to mitigate these annoyances, and ensure a decent quality of life for nearby residents.

The judgment also asks municipalities to show prudence and discernment in their territory’s development and avoid neighboring occupancies that are likely to be incompatible. To accomplish this they can use zoning powers wisely or develop such things as buffer zones. Companies must understand the common law and the jeopardy of a property rights trespass.


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