British Columbia

10 years after its completion, Canada Line remains bitter Olympic legacy for Cambie Street businesses

The Canada Line may have been completed in time for the Vancouver Olympics, but 10 years on, a legal battle over its construction has yet to reach the end of the line. More than 100 Cambie Village merchants are still fighting for money they claim they lost when Cambie Street was torn up to build the underground line.

Merchants won 2018 lawsuit for financial losses, but appeal by TransLink, SNC-Lavalin still to be settled

Former and current Cambie merchants are still fighting to recover alleged losses caused by the 'cut and cover' construction of the Canada Line more than a decade ago. (CBC)

The Canada Line may have been completed in time for the Vancouver Olympics, but 10 years on, a legal battle over its construction has yet to reach the end of the line.

It's a bitter legacy of the 2010 Games: more than 100 Cambie Village merchants are still in court, fighting for money they claim they lost when Cambie Street was torn up to build the underground line linking Vancouver to Richmond.

The former operator of the neighbourhood's iconic Park Theatre believes the public has no idea the merchants have yet to be reimbursed.

"I think people would be upset," said Leonard Schein, spokesperson for the Cambie Village Business Association. "We all want public transportation ... but you can't take advantage of small local neighbourhood businesses to get that."

The Park Theatre lost $250,000 between 2007 and 2009 due to Canada Line construction, according to former owner Leonard Schein. (CBC)

What's especially galling for the Cambie merchants: they won a class action lawsuit in 2018, but the Canada Line builders, TransLink and SNC-Lavalin, appealed.

At issue: how to calculate the amount of financial loss suffered by the merchants — if any.

All sides are awaiting the appeal court decision, expected soon.

'We all lost money'

Schein says 39 businesses went belly-up when Canada Line construction ripped open Cambie Street from 2nd Avenue to 25th Avenue.

"We all lost money," said Schein. "It was a very tough time."

He claims merchants were first told the work would be done underground through a "bored tunnel" 

Instead, the builders opted for a cheaper "cut and cover" method — but Schein says they promised they would tear up the street for only three months. 

Canada Line construction tore up and blocked off long stretches of Cambie Street from 2007 to 2009. (CBC)

That ballooned into 18 months in front of some businesses, according to allegations made in the class-action lawsuit.

Schein says he lost a quarter-million dollars due to the dust and the noise.

The settlement awarded him half that, $128,800.

The B.C. Supreme court came up with the figure based on the alleged loss of land value due to changes in net revenues during Canada Line construction. 

Then came the appeal.

"I have not seen a penny," said Schein, 71.

Canada Line 'defending' itself

CBC News asked TransLink, the B.C. transportation authority that oversaw the Canada Line project, and SNC-Lavalin, which built it, why they've continued the legal fight for more than a decade.  

SNC-Lavalin referred us to TransLink.

In a statement, Translink said "Canada Line is defending the claims being pursued all these years later by the Cambie Street Merchants." It maintains the method used to determine compensation "is not the correct approach to determine whether Canada Line caused a loss in land value arising from construction." 

'The stress was killing me'

In addition to the financial toll, some merchants claim the battle to save their businesses took a physical toll, too.

"The stress was killing me," said Lee Jensen, who runs Armadillo, a woman's clothing store formerly in the Cambie Village. "We had a 50-foot hole in front of my store." 

Lee Jensen, 72, says he relocated his business to South Granville because of the Canada Line construction more than a decade ago. (Eric Rankin/ CBC)

He moved his business to South Granville, but he believes the emotional strain contributed to a brain aneurysm that put him in a coma for a month and a half.

He still finds it hard to talk about those times.

"I don't even want to go there anymore, because you know my health is more important to me than all this stuff," said Jensen, 72.

He didn't join the class action lawsuit, even though he says he's still working because of the financial hit he suffered. 

'For the greater good'

Vancouver transportation expert Gordon Price says in general, governments and their private partners don't have to offer compensation to those hurt by a public project being built for the public good.

He points to a water main being built outside his Vancouver West End apartment as an example.

"Can I now go and say 'I'd like to be compensated for the cut-off access and lots of noise?'" asked Price. "You have to have a principle that there's a public benefit. Short term impacts. That's just a cost for the greater good."

Transportation expert Gordon Price says you generally can't expect compensation for inconvenience caused by public projects built for the public good. (Enzo Zanatta/ CBC)

And he says the on-going Cambie Street battle is a valuable lesson to Translink and governments, as they prepare to build the West Broadway subway line.

"I think from the beginning everyone who's been working on Broadway has been thinking 'Cambie,'" said Price. "I think [they'll have] a very much different attitude because of that case." 

'If it hits them between the eyes...'

Despite the legal fight dragging on over the construction of the Canada Line, both Schein and Jensen say it's a good thing it was built. 

"It's just the government did not treat us fairly," said Schein.

Jensen has a warning for Broadway merchants.

"People don't often remember yesterday's news. [They] only remember what's happening now," said Jensen. "If it hits them between the eyes they see it. Otherwise they don't worry about what's happened to the other guy."
 

With files from Ethan Sawyer

 

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

 

About the Author

Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.

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