OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear Newfoundland and Labrador’s appeal of an AbitibiBowater environmental cleanup ruling that favoured the insolvent newsprint giant.
The high court announced Thursday it granted leave to appeal a lower court ruling with costs. The Quebec Court of Appeal had previously refused to hear the case.
The province had said the country’s top court needed to determine key issues of public importance related to the creditor protection process under which the initial ruling was made.
In particular, it said the court needs to decide if a debtor’s statutory duty to remove environmental contamination is “extinguished” under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, like a commercial debt.
The world’s largest newsprint company by capacity expects to exit 20 months of creditor protection in Canada and the United States in early December.
The province wants to force Abitibi to clean up five sites it ran between 1905 and 2008. They include a defunct Grand Falls-Windsor paper mill in central Newfoundland that the government expropriated in December 2008.
The province rushed through legislation to seize Abitibi timber and water rights, along with a hydroelectric power station, after the failing company announced it was closing the paper mill.
The federal government subsequently agreed to pay AbitibiBowater $130 million to settle a claim under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Premier Danny Williams, who Thursday announced his resignation from politics effective Dec. 3, had accused the Quebec courts of “bias” for being fixated on having Abitibi restructure.
In its notice seeking to appeal the Quebec court ruling, Newfoundland and Labrador called industrial pollution one of the scourges of the modern age.
At the heart of all legislation designed to redress the effects of pollution is the “polluter-pay” principle requiring those responsible for cleaning it up.