The Québec Superior Court of the District of Montréal has authorized the largest environmental class action suit in Canadian history against Canadian Electrolytic Zinc of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, in Québec.
François Deraspe has been given the go-ahead to represent any and all persons who were affected by the accidental release, in 2004, of a toxic cloud at a plant in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield. The strong winds had pushed the cloud of sulphur trioxide over many other municipalities, where residents suffered skin rashes, burning eyes, respiratory problems and burning throats, among various ailments. Employees at the plant were in no danger, because the cloud, released by an 80-metre high smokestack, kept airborne until half a kilometre from the plant.
The operator, Canadian Electrolytic Zinc, was bought in 2006 by Xstrata, fourth largest mining company in the world. The company filed a motion in 2010 for the action to be dismissed, but it was rejected at the end of that year and the decision upheld in February 2011, before the Supreme Court of Canada finally dismissed an appeal by the company at the end of 2011.
François Deraspe, who is represented by lawyer Chantal Desjardins, will be asking that the company be forced to pay between $5,000 to $10,000 to every member of the group, depending on the degree of suffering, plus exemplary damages of $5,000. Jennifer Brown, writing in Legal Feeds, says it is estimated that the lawsuit could cost around $900 million, making this class action lawsuit the biggest environmental litigation in Canadian history.