The Québec Court of Appeal will soon hear a fascinating case on the power of municipalities to regulate speedboats. Municipal efforts to regulate boats have long been rebuffed, on the ground that boats belong to exclusive federal jurisdiction over navigation. However, recent judicial and statutory initiatives to give greater powers to municipalities emboldened St-Adolphe d’Howard to try again.
St-Adolphe d’Howard is a small municipality in cottage country, one hour north of Montréal. It has 12,000 cottagers and fewer than 4000 permanent residents. The municipality adopted a bylaw restricting boat access to its two major lakes. Everyone, other than property owners and long-term tenants of lakefront property, must access the lake only through the municipal wharf. This allows the municipality to control the number of motorboats using the lake, and to ensure that all incoming boots are properly cleaned using the municipality’s cleaning equipment. In January, Justice Lalonde upheld the bylaw, saying that its dominant purpose was protection of the lake, its shores and water quality. This environmental objective and method, he held, did not sterilize federal jurisdiction over navigation. In fact, he praised the municipality, taking judicial notice that many Québec lakes had become contaminated:
Showing wisdom, Saint-Adolphe took the legal means placed at its disposal to reach the pressing objective of conservation of the quality of the water of the lakes Saint-Joseph and Sainte-Marie. With this intention, Saint-Adolphe could adopt discriminatory measures to the extent allowed by law.
A local resort owner has appealed to the Court of Appeal; the federal government recently obtained leave to intervene. This will be the second time that this hard-fought case has gone to the Court of Appeal, but it seems likely that the town will ultimately succeed. Aside from the powerful precedent set in Hudson v. Spraytech by another small Québec municipality, Québec courts almost never defer to exclusive federal jurisdiction.