Class actions Quebec Quebec Superior Court Supreme Court of Canada White-collar crimes

News roundup: Tainted water, a falling-tree fatality and a lawyer fined for tax evasion

The Minister of National Defence is considering appealing a recent class action ruling that awarded $15,000 to residents of a small town near Quebec City inconvenienced  by the contamination of well water by a known carcinogen.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Bernard Godbout ruled that the class action suit launched by the townspeople of Shannon failed to prove that trichloroethylene (TCE), a solvent used on a nearby army base to clean artillery and ammunition, was responsible for abnormally-high cancer rates in the town. Shannon, a community of 2,000 people, is located near the Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, a huge military defence complex.

“The evidence did not demonstrate that it is probable that the spilling of TCE contaminated the groundwater under the municipality of Shannon, making it the cause of an abnormally-high number of cancer cases, disease and other allergic reactions,” Godbout wrote in his judgment.

Justice Godbout found however that the contamination of well water of TCE was an inconvenience to residents and ordered the government to pay compensation of $15,000 to about 300 affected residents who were among the 2,700 present and former residents lending their name to the class-action suit.

“We will review the decision in order to evaluate next steps,” said Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay in a press release.

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In August 2006, a 27-year old Quebecer was in the driver’s seat of his parked car when an old poplar tree crashed down onto his vehicle during a violent storm, and killed him.

A coroner’s report on Gabriel Rossy’s death confirmed the tree that fell on him was found to be 90 per cent rotten and had been “dangerous” for at least one or two years.

His family sued the City of Westmount for failing to maintain the tree, but a Superior Court judge dismissed the action, saying it was a matter that should be dealt with through the province’s Automobile Insurance Act – a ruling that was overturned by the Quebec Court of Appeal in November 2010 who found that the car had nothing to do with Mr. Rossy’s death.

In a ruling that marked the first the Supreme Court of Canada tackled Quebec’s no-fault insurance plan, the nation’s highest court restored the lower court ruling and dismissed the lawsuit against Westmount. The top court ruled Rossy was using his vehicle as a means of transportation when the accident occurred, and as a result his family must turn to Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ), the provincial automobile insurance board, for compensation.

“This is enough to find that the damage arose as a result of an “accident” within the meaning of the Act and that the no-fault benefits of the scheme are triggered. Therefore, the respondents’ civil claim is barred and they must turn instead to the SAAQ for compensation,” wrote the SCC in a 7-0 decision.

“The Court of Appeal erred in interpreting the Act too narrowly,” added Justice Louis LeBel who penned the decision. “Such an interpretation risks unduly restricting the  intended application of Quebec’s no-fault scheme and must therefore be rejected.”

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A Montreal lawyer, charged following a Canada Revenue Agency investigation of an art-donation scheme, was fined $840,000 after pleading guilty to a tax evasion charge before the Court of Quebec.

Stéphane Saintonge “voluntarily contravened the Income Tax Act in 2003 by enabling a third party to obtain an ineligible amount of tax deductions for the donation of artwork to the Municipality of Larouche,” said Canada’s Revenue Agency.

The scheme consisted of backdating a series of transactions in order to unduly boost the tax credits claimed, according to the Revenue Agency.

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