Supreme Court will hear case against Abitibi

Dave Bartlett
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Ministers say expropriation of Grand Falls mill doesn’t matter; polluter pays for cleanup

Justice Minister Felix Collins and Environment Minister Charlene Johnson speak to media Friday about the Supreme Court decision on Abitibi Price. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

The province’s ministers of environment and justice say they are pleased the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal which could force AbitibiBowater to clean up the environment mess the company left behind in a number of areas around the province.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has maintained provincial legislation says the polluter pays for all environmental cleanups.

But a Quebec court ruled earlier this province’s right to sue Abitibi was trumped by a federal bankruptcy law, the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).

The Quebec Court of Appeal refused to hear the province’s appeal on the original ruling.

But Thursday, the Supreme Court said it would grant this province the right to appeal. No date has been set for the hearing, but Environment Minister Charlene Johnson told reporters Friday morning it could be this spring.

Justice Minister Felix Collins said it’s rare for the Supreme Court to grant appeals “on leave,” which will allow the province to argue the case “on its merit.”

Johnson said the decision will have implications right across the country.

“This is about constitutional authority, and really the basic question that’s being asked here is does the CCAA court have the right, or the constitutional authority, to trump our provincial regulations and our provincial laws,” she said. “In this case, for us, it’s the Environmental Protection Act. But for any other province it could be any other act.”

Johnson said the total cost of the cleanup is estimated at $100 million or more.

“But as I’ve always said, Abitibi needs to submit their remediation plans to us and until they do that we won’t know the exact cost of cleanup,” she said.

Johnson said there are still environmental assessments, human health risk assessments and risk analysis to do before a cleanup can begin.

But she said anything which has been determined to be an immediate health risk will be cleaned up right away, as was done in Buchans. That cleanup was completed last week at a cost of $9 million.

Johnson said it’s possible that money may be able to be billed back to Abitibi depending on what the Supreme Court decides.

Collins said the province owed it to the taxpayers of the province to go the distance by taking the challenge to the highest court in the country.

When quizzed about the fact the province accidentally expropriated the Abitibi paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor, the ministers said that doesn’t matter.

“It doesn’t matter how you aquire the property, it’s always the polluter who’s responsible for the liability,” said Collins.

Organizations: Supreme Court of Canada, AbitibiBowater

Geographic location: Abitibi, Grand Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador Quebec Buchans Grand Falls-Windsor

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