There continue to be more environmental class actions in Quebec than anywhere else in the country.
Two new class actions were certified in Quebec last year arising from disastrous accidents:
In Lessard c. Arcand, 2012 QCCS 275, a claim was certified for flooding damage in Weedon, Quebec. Residents claim that their homes were flooded in October of 2005 and 2006 due to mismanagement by the Quebec Ministry of Environment of a dam controlling the water level in Lake Louise and three neighboring rivers. A similar claim against the City of Sherbrooke was not certified because the necessary notice of claim was not given to the City on time, as required by the Cities and Towns Act.
In Deraspe v. Zinc électrolytique du Canada ltée, 2012 QCCS 1043, a $900 million class action was certified against a zinc refinery for a 30 minute spill of sulphur trioxide on August 9, 2004. Neighbours allege irritation of their eyes, throat, respiratory passages and skin, coughs and/or asthma attacks.
Compensation from old cases
Two others were certified for groups seeking additional compensation from previous cases:
In Renaud v. Holcim Canada Inc., 2012 QCCS 82, 1300 residents of Beauport are suing Holcim Canada (formerly Ciment Saint-Laurent) for $10 million, because they were not included in the $15 million award in Barette v. Ciment Saint-Laurent ( 3 R.C.S. 392) for dust, odour and noise from a now-closed cement plant. These residents say they realized only in 2009 that they were not included in the class of 2000 residents who received compensation in the first action. The Court certified the new class action on the ground that public notice for the first class action was insufficient. Each new class member’s knowledge of this notice will have to be determined through a new trial.
In Comité d’environnement de Ville-Émard (CEVE) c. Stodola, 2012 QCCS 2550, residents were authorized to sue the directors of Domfer Poudres Métalliques inc., hoping to collect the damages the company was ordered to pay in a 2006 class action judgment for metal powder pollution (2006 QCCA 1394). Most of the award proved uncollectable after Domfer declared bankruptcy. The issue is whether dividends of $14,178,975 granted in 2003 played a role in the 2008 bankruptcy.
Health and contaminated drinking water?
However, while many environmental class actions are certified in Quebec, success at trial remains rare. In Spieser v. Canada, 2007 QCCS 1207, 2012 QCCS 2801, 3500 residents of Shannon, Quebec sued the Department of National Defence for TCE (trichloroethylene) contamination of their drinking water wells. TCE was used as a solvent at the Valcartier military base. DND eventually provided the residents with a new piped municipal water supply.
The residents claimed that the TCE contamination was responsible for over 500 cases of cancer, including almost 300 deaths. After a long trial, the Superior Court judge ruled there was not enough proof that the TCE caused the cancers or other illnesses. Instead, the residents were awarded $1,000 for the inconvenience of each month that they had no domestic water supply, up to $12,000/person). The class members have commenced an appeal.