Former steel plant operators try to have part of suit dismissed

Heading to court Tuesday

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Wed. Jan. 24, 2007

SYDNEY - A team of lawyers is working to prove that past operators of the steel plant knew they were polluting nearby neighbourhoods and did nothing to protect residents.

Ray Wagner, the plaintiffs lawyer, said the pending court battle centres on a claim that defendants breached their fiduciary duty when they spewed toxic emissions into the air and contaminated the environment and residential neighbourhoods while making steel.

It's a claim Supreme Court Justice David MacAdam has already ruled can proceed. "He refused to strike it from the statement of claim," said Wagner.

However, defendants get another chance to have the claim dropped during an appeal to be heard Tuesday. Lawyers aiming to have the claim removed represent provincial and federal governments, Canadian National Railway, Ispat Sidbec Inc., and its principal Hawker Siddley.

Plaintiffs are also holding the defendants liable for battery, nuisance, trespassing, negligence, harm and injuries, family losses, as well as aggravated, punitive and other damages.

The allegations haven't been proven in court. Wagner said if the class-action lawsuit is successful, it'll be the first case in Canada where a polluter is held responsible for not acting in the best interest of those around them.

The case will continue Jan. 31, when plaintiffs Neila MacQueen, Joe Petitpas, Ann Marie Ross and Iris Crawford file statements moving to have the case heard as a class-action lawsuit. That process will take more than a year to inch through the legal system. A decision will likely follow the certification application to be heard in April 2008.

Wagner said about 400 people have joined the suit. Eligible residents are those living within a 3.5-mile radius of where Victoria Road intersects with Laurier Street in Whitney Pier. To become a class member, residents are required to live, or have lived, within the boundary for a minimum of three consecutive years.

The intersection is a stone's throw from Frederick Street, which was nearly deserted when government offered to buy the properties of those living on the small street bordering the coke ovens site. About 17 of 22 property owners agreed to the deal.

It's expected the civil case could take between two and six years to resolve and millions of dollars will likely be sought as compensation.