Group wants Quebec's top court to force new public consultation on light-rail project

A citizen-led coalition wants Quebec’s top court to force the government to redo the public consultations on the province’s light-rail project.

Group claims Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau threw out its lawsuit due to bias

The proposed light-trail transit system (LRT) would connect the South Shore to downtown Montreal, the airport, and the West Island. (Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec)

A citizen-led coalition wants Quebec's top court to force the government to redo the public consultations on the province's light-rail project.

Coalition Climat wants the Court of Appeal to overturn a lower court's decision to throw out a lawsuit the group filed in March 2017.

The group claims Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau was biased against it, and erred in not allowing the public to have "meaningful" hearings on the project.

The light-rail network, the Réseau électrique métropolitain (REM), is on a tight schedule and could have been delayed had the lawsuit gone ahead. The first trains are expected to run in 2020, though there have been questions about the timeline.

The coalition accused the project's promoter, CDPQ Infra, of not providing enough information on the project to make the consultations, carried out by Quebec's environmental review board (BAPE), useful.

The BAPE echoed those concerns, saying in a 296-page report that the documentation for the project is incomplete, making it impossible for some parts of the project to be analyzed.

For its part, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, which is behind the project, said the BAPE made 43 recommendations in its report and that some have been taken into consideration and even integrated into the project.

"We have completed public consultations and will continue to meet and consult widely. More than 15,000 citizens were met and hundreds of meetings were organized," CDPQ Infra spokesperon Jean-Vincent Lacroix told CBC in an email.

Lacroix would not comment on the lawsuit as it is before the courts.

Problematic law?

The group particularly takes issue with Bill 137, which grants significant powers to CDPQ Infra and was designed to help fast-track the project. It passed last September.

The law states that the BAPE hearings, which took place in 2016, comply with the Environment Quality Act. After that law was passed, lawyers representing the government moved to have the case dismissed.

In December, Yergeau did just that, rejecting the plaintiff's arguments, saying they were too speculative and borrow from concepts that aren't related to the issues at hand.

The group says the law infringes on the public's right to be consulted on projects as big as the REM.

"Our government and CDPQ Infra are hiding behind the legal fiction that they can just cancel this right with the stroke of a pen," said Alison Hackney, one of the plaintiffs, in a news release.

The price tag for the 67-kilometre rail line is $6 billion — $1.3 billion from the province, $1.28 billion from the federal government and $3 billion from the Caisse.

The project would connect 26 stations stretching from the South Shore to Montreal's Trudeau airport and beyond, to both the West Island and Laval.