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Dust they are, and unto dust they shall return, yet human beings have difficulty resigning themselves to living in dust.  Sometimes, weary of brooms and buckets of water, they are not unwilling to turn to the courts to get rid of it.  This case is proof of that.

 

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a Québec ruling awarding $15 million to neighbours of a cement plant, despite no fault by the company and a specific statute authorizing it to operate in that particular location. In St. Lawrence Cement Inc. v. Barrette, adult neighbours of a cement plant were awarded between $935 and $11,000 each for six years of odour, noise and dust, sometimes amounting to “storms of cement”. While St. Lawrence Cement had  used due diligence, spending huge sums on pollution control equipment capable of excellent performance, the equipment sometimes broke down.  The decision was based on a special no-fault liability scheme under the Québec Civil Code, which applies where neighbourhood annoyances are “excessive”.  Thus, the case could be of limited relevance in the common law provinces. However, the Supreme Court went out of its way to draw a parallel between the Civil Code provisions and the common law of nuisance, and to laud the environmental benefits of a no-fault system.

[77]      At common law, nuisance is a field of liability that focuses on the harm suffered rather than on prohibited conduct …. [79] Thus, in both these legal systems, a scheme of no-fault liability in respect of neighbourhood disturbances is accepted in one form or another.  Their schemes seem analogous to the one that can be inferred from art. 976 C.C.Q.

[80]                     Finally, it must be mentioned that the acceptance of no-fault liability furthers environmental protection objectives…  No-fault liability also reinforces the application of the polluter pay principle, which this Court discussed in Imperial Oil Ltd. v. Quebec (Minister of the Environment), , [2003] 2 S.C.R. 624, 2003 SCC 58.

 

After 40 years of operation, the plant closed shortly after the class-action was certified.

 

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