Quebec court authorizes environmental class action

The Superior Court of the district of Montreal has authorized the bringing of what the plaintiff’s lawyer says could be the largest environmental class action in Canadian history.

Chantal Desjardins, lawyer for Francois Deraspe, the individual representing the class, says the case is based on an incident that occurred Aug. 9, 2004 involving a toxic cloud released at a plant operated by Canadian Electrolytic Zinc in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Que. ?

Individuals reportedly experienced burning eyes, throat, airways, and respiratory ailments, skin rashes, and other symptoms simultaneously with their exposure to a toxic cloud released by the plant operated by Canadian Electrolytic Zinc. In 2006, Canadian Electrolytic Zinc was acquired by Xstrata, the fourth largest diversified mining company in the world.

Deraspe will ask the court to force the company to pay between $5,000 and $10,000 to each member of the group depending on the prejudice suffered as well as exemplary damages of $5,000. It is estimated the lawsuit could cost up to $900 million.?

On Aug. 9 2004, the wind blew from west to northeast resulting in the exposure of all or part of the municipalities and boroughs of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, St-Thimothee, Melocheville, Ile Perrot, Beaconsfield, Dorval, Lachine, Pierrefonds, and Kirkland to the toxic cloud. Deraspe will apply to the court in the coming days to add to that list the municipalities and boroughs of St-Laurent, Cote-St-Luc, Ahunstic-Cartierville, Mont-Royal, Hampstead, Cote-des-Neiges, Notre-Dame-de-Grace; Outremont, Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie; Villeray-St-Michel-Parc-Extension; Montreal-Nord, Laval-des-Rapides and Chomedey.??

The lawsuit alleges a toxic cloud of 10 tonnes of sulphur trioxide had been released in the environment from an 80-metre high smokestack while the wind was blowing at 17 km/h towards densely populated areas.

Desjardins says employees present at the plant at the time were not affected by the cloud since it was airborne up until half a kilometre from the plant where it started gliding at ground level for more than a hundred kilometers.

“On the evening of the release the wind was blowing eastward and therefore the cloud exposed many towns and boroughs of the city of Montréal along its path. People were exposed to different concentrations and not all of those exposed were affected by the cloud,” says Desjardins.

In May 2010, the company filed a motion to have the class action dismissed on the grounds that the courts had already ruled on that matter. The Superior Court of Quebec denied the motion in December 2010 and its ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeal in February 2011. The application filed by the company for leave to appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court of Canada in September 2011.

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