Sunday, July 3, 2011

Québec water case law 21: The Court of Appeal upholds the validity of municipal by-laws for riparian zone protection


In Wallot v. Ville de Québec (in French), the Court of Appeal of Québec sits on appeal of a Superior Court judgement discussed in a previous post where the facts were thus summarised:

- Lake St. Charles is the source of 50% of the drinking water provided by the defendant municipality Québec City, serving close to 300 000 persons;

- During the summers of 2006 and 2007, toxic cyanobacteria proliferate in the Lake due to phosphate inputs from fertiliser run-offs, septic tank leakage, etc;

- Municipal by-laws are adopted by Québec City in June 2008 to counter this phenomenon by imposing the naturalisation and reforestation of heavily modified riparian areas on a 10 to 15 meters strip of land around the Lake;

- The plaintiffs and appellants are owners of riparian properties around Lake St. Charles. They contest the validity of the by-laws to avoid being forced to return part of their properties to a more natural state.

The Superior Court rejects the plaintiffs’ arguments and concludes that the municipality made reasonable use of its regulatory powers.

The appeal raises the following questions:

1 - Did the Superior Court err in concluding that the defendant municipality could adopt, based on section 19 of the Municipal Powers Act (MPA), the by-laws attacked?

2 - If the defendant municipality had the regulatory power to adopt the by-laws, did the Superior Court err in concluding that the defendant municipality did not exceed the power conferred by the MPA in doing so?

To answer the first question, the Court of Appeal establishes the breadth of the municipal regulatory power under sections 4.4 and 19 MPA by reference to the right to a healthy environment at section 19.2 of the Environment Quality Act, to the Protection Policy for Lakeshores, Riverbanks, Littoral Zones and Floodplains, to the Sustainable Development Act, and to the Act to affirm the Collective Nature of Water Resources and Provide for Increased Water Resource Protection. In this legislative context and given section 2 MPA, the Court concludes that the attacked municipal by-laws correspond to the regulatory powers conferred by the MPA.

With respect to the second question, the Court of Appeal examines whether the municipal by-laws impose constraints on the plaintiffs’ enjoyment of their properties that are prohibitive enough to constitute disguised expropriation. This is mostly a factual question and the Superior Court’s decision can only be quashed if it contains a manifest and dominant mistake, which is not the case. The by-laws are not equivalent to an absolute negation of the plaintiffs’ property rights or a positive confiscation of the properties. The plaintiffs’ rights over their properties remain exclusive. The plaintiffs can continue enjoying their property for residential purposes. Hence, the Court rejects the appeal.

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