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Residents and Former Residents of Sydney, Nova Scotia Will Get Their Day in Court

Victor Lewin - Wednesday, July 13, 2011

After polluting the air, soils and waters of Sydney for decades, despite their best efforts to deny the pollution victims access to the Courts, the Canadian and Nova Scotian Governments will have to face the merits of the class action against them after all. This is important for the pollution victims and vital to the development of environmental class actions in Canadian law.

On Wednesday, July 6, 2011, the Honourable Justice John D. Murphy rendered his oral decision in relation to Wagners' motion to certify the proposed class proceeding concerning the contamination caused by the operation of the Steel Plant and Coke Ovens facilities which were located in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Wagners, in cooperation with Siskinds LLP who are based in London, Ontario, are pleased to advise that the decision was in favour of certification of the class action. This monumental decision recognizes that the Sydney Tar Ponds class action grants access to justice for those impacted the pollution caused by the operations of the Governments of Canada and Nova Scotia.

Recognizing that there are merit-related issues which many people in Sydney share in common against the defendants, the class action will allow similarly situated individuals to have their cases heard together at one time. Access to justice, judicial economy and behaviour modification are the cornerstones of class proceedings and the decision in this case is indeed a significant victory for the many individuals who have been wronged by the actions of others and who have common issues and causes of action against the defendants.

The class proceeding, originally filed by Wagners Law Firm in March of 2004, has gone through numerous court motions, appeals, examinations, discoveries and other initiatives and refinements over the last 7 years. The action was launched on behalf of a class of people who live or have lived in the neighbourhoods immediately surrounding the site of the Sydney steel plant, former coke ovens operations, and Tar Ponds. Neila Catherine MacQueen, Joseph M. Petitpas, Ann Marie Ross, and Kathleen Iris Crawford - all life-long residents of the Whitney Pier or Ashby areas are the Representative Plaintiffs of the Classes.

The action seeks compensation for property damage, for funds to establish a medical monitoring mechanism to monitor the risks posed by the toxic emissions and compensation for the nuisance caused to the residents. Raymond F. Wagner, of Wagners, and C. Scott Ritchie, Q.C., of Siskinds LLP, are Co-Counsel for the residents of Sydney who have sought justice and redress for so long.

The Representative Plaintiffs and the Class Members will still need to prove their case at the common issues trial. However, the successful certification decision now allows those individuals who have the same or a similar case to be heard together at one time. Procedurally, certification of a proposed class proceeding is a significant factor in facilitating the resolution of the lawsuit. A successful certification will also provide access to justice to those who could not afford to seek justice on their own and it may also serve as a deterrent for future unlawful behaviour, spoiled environments and harsh government actions.

The oral certification decision is quite detailed and written reasons may follow. If you have an interest in learning more about Justice Murphy's decision, which was streamed live over the world wide web from the Law Courts in Halifax, it has been archived as Session #22 on the Nova Scotia Court's website and may be viewed at the following url:

http://www.courts.ns.ca/nssc_webcasting/nssc_video_archives.htm

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