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How much noise must neighbours of a highway put up with?

The Québec Court of Appeal has certified the Carrier class action by neighbours of a major Québec freeway, the Laurentian Highway (Highway 73) north of Québec City. The neighbours have been complaining about noise from the highway since 1985, which (they say) interferes with outdoor use of their properties and requires them to keep their windows closed at all times. Even with the windows closed, their sleep is disturbed and they must endure noise  “comparable to an intense bombardment”.

In 1985, the Ministry of Transport agreed to pay half the cost of a noise protection barrier if the municipality paid the other half; the barrier was never built. A study concluded  that 10% of the homes received more than 65 dB of noise; 42% received more than 55 dB.

The neighbours eventually commenced a class action, claiming that they were being exposed to an abnormal level of noise, substantially equivalent to a claim for nuisance. They also claimed breaches of the Québec Environmental Quality Act and the Québec Charter of Rights and Liberties. The Court of Appeal decided that the case was ideally suited for collective relief, that the defence of statutory immunity would not necessarily protect the province from liability, and that an injunction could be issued if warranted by the facts:

Protecting the environment is a responsibility entrusted to all citizens, although the state is called upon to play an increasing role in this area of activity. Noise pollution is no exception. … collective action.. creates a just balance between the people who suffer the consequences of a violation and the offender, who often has much greater resources. ..

The rules for class actions in Québec have traditionally been more liberal than those in the common-law provinces, but the differences between the two regimes has narrowed substantially in recent years. Accordingly, this is an important precedent for those suffering noise from any public infrastructure anywhere in Canada.

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