Montreal

Montreal Metro's Blue line facing delays after owners of Galeries d'Anjou launch lawsuit

The commercial real estate giants that own Montreal's Galeries d'Anjou shopping centre are claiming that Montreal's transit authority never had any intention of negotiating with them in good faith over land expropriation to complete the Metro Blue line project. 

End-of-line bus station would split mall, cost 2,000 parking spaces, say plaintiffs fighting expropriation

Saint-Michel Metro station is the eastern terminus of the Blue line. Extending the Metro line eastward would mean cutting through the east-end Galeries d'Anjou shopping centre. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The commercial real estate giants that own Montreal's Galeries d'Anjou shopping centre are claiming that Montreal's transit authority never had any intention of negotiating with them in good faith over the expropriation of land to complete the Metro Blue line project. 

In a move that could lead to incalculable delays to the project, Cadillac Fairview and Ivanhoé Cambridge have filed documents in Quebec Superior Court asking the court to quash an expropriation notice issued by the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) in January.

According to the court documents, the shopping mall in the city's east end is worth more than $460 million. It houses some 175 restaurants and stores, including major retailers such as Best Buy, La Baie and Simons.

The proposed five-station Blue line extension would end in the Galeries d'Anjou parking lot and is slated to include a bus station and a 1,200-space park-and-ride lot on the mall's property. 

The court document says the STM's plan would result in:

  • The splitting of the mall's property in two.
  • The loss of some 2,000 parking spaces.
  • The demolition of several restaurants and businesses, leading to the loss of hundreds of jobs.
  • The permanent and irreversible alteration of the mall which would prevent any future development.

Two sides supposed to collaborate

In 2016, the mall's owners entered into an agreement with the STM to withdraw existing legal challenges, according to the court document. In exchange for setting aside their legal differences, they were to concentrate their efforts on negotiating a settlement "to avoid expropriation procedures and to come to a mutual agreement on the purchase of the property sought after by the STM."

But that never happened, the mall's owners contend. They allege the STM shelved the project for the duration of the agreement to collaborate and did not engage in negotiations or discussions with the plaintiffs. 

Cadillac Fairview and Ivanhoé Cambridge claim in their court filing that the STM flouted their suggestions and moved forward with the project unilaterally without due regard for their concerns.

They say the STM's behaviour demonstrates that it never intended to  negotiate in good faith.  

"The plaintiffs realise they were drawn into this process and led to believe the STM's supposed sincere desire to negotiate an agreement beneficial to all parties, only to end up at the same place as in 2014, that is contesting the expropriation in the courts."

STM has right to expropriate

In its response, filed in court, the STM says it is within its rights to expropriate land, and it calls the position of the mall's owners "absurd."

"They allege that the STM must first negotiate with them before proceeding to expropriate to arrive at a mutual agreement, but refuse to negotiate henceforth because of the expropriations," the STM states.

In a written response to Radio-Canada, the STM said it is willing to negotiate with the mall owners despite the expropriations, which it says it had to proceed with in order to respect the project's deadlines.

"The STM is attentive to the needs expressed and is open to finding a solution to the issues brought up, all while respecting the key parameters of the project," it said in the statement.

Bill 61 must pass, says Trajectoire

The public transit advocacy group Trajectoire says the Blue line extension could be delayed by the court action, and that's disappointing.

The group's president, François Pepin, says people in the east end of Montreal have been waiting for 40 years for Metro service. Pepin believes they can handle a delay of a few months, but it would be unfair to them to have to put up with several more years of delays.

He is calling on the government to pass its controversial economic stimulus project as soon as it is able, to allow for the quick expropriation of the property.

"The government should, this fall, approve Bill 61, especially on the expropriation part because the process [to expropriate] would be shorter," said Pepin.

Chantal Rouleau, Quebec's junior transport minister, called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Blue line funding announcement 'a very important signal' in 2019. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Chantal Rouleau, Quebec's junior transport minister, said the government would like to expropriate and then negotiate a fair price for the land in an effort to get the project off the ground faster.

Rouleau, who is also the minister responsible for the Montreal region, said that is the approach the government took to get construction of the REM light rail project off the ground. 

She said that process worked well in the case of the REM, and those who were expropriated were "relatively satisfied."

"It's for a project that's for the common good: it's not to build a hotel," said Rouleau. "We are talking about public transit."

Lawyers for both sides in the Blue line expropriation dispute are due in court later this month.

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