Woman's civil suit against steel plant stands alone - for now

By Steve MacInnis

Cape Breton Post
Fri., Feb. 1, 2008

Sydney - A Sydney woman's civil suit against the various owners and operators of a former steel plant will, for now, proceed on it's own without being joined to a proposed class-action suit.

Justice David MacAdam of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, rejected an application by the province, one of the former Sydney plant's owners to have Debbie Ouellette's civil action joined with a larger class-action suit.

MacAdam ruled it was far too early to review such possibilities since the class action suit has not been certified. A certification hearing isn't scheduled until January 2009.

Presently, class- action suits first need court approval before they can proceed, However, the laws governing such suits in Nova Scotia are about to change, dropping the requirement for the court approval. The new law has yet been proclaimed.

But MacAdam did recommend that Ouellette's suit be managed by the judge, himself, who is managing the larger suit. Case management simply follows a case through the judicial system to ensure everything is before the court that should be and issues of contention are clearly identified.

Ouellette's objected to having her case joined with the class-action suit but had no problems with having her case managed by MacAdam. "I will continue to fight for separation. Why should I have to go to Halifax when the problems and the evidence are all located here in Sydney," said Ouellette, after Monday's hearing.

The class-action suit represents 400 local residents seeking compensation for property and personal contamination flowing from the steel mil's operation. The mill closed in 2000. Since the group action was filed, the case was moved to Halifax since that is where the majority of the lawyers defending the suit work. As of yet, there has been no formal motion regarding where the trail will take place.

Halifax Lawyer Ray Wagner is representing those with the class-action suit. He and his clients were against the motion to have Ouellette's suit joined explaining their actions are targeting different defendants and his suit has been in the works for nearly four years while Ouellette just filed.

Ouellette's said she been working toward her suit for the past 10 years which included having her family moved from their home on Frederick Street because high levels of arsenic seeping into her basement from the tarponds and steel plant property. "It's not in Halifax that has the damage, it's here," said Ouellette "Ouellette's suit names the Sydney Tarponds Agency along with provincial departments of Health, Environment and Transportation as well as other named defendants.

In the Wagner suit, the federal and provincial governments along with other former operators are named.