Thunder Bay

CN's James Street bridge appeal dismissed by Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed CN Rail's appeal of a court case involving the James Street Swing Bridge.

Supreme Court of Canada dismisses case, with costs

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an appeal from CN Rail regarding the James St. Swing Bridge. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed CN Rail's appeal of a court case involving the James Street Swing Bridge.

The court announced the decision Thursday morning, noting it will not overturn an Ontario Court of Appeal decision from June, 2018.

The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled the railway needed to repair and re-open the bridge to vehicular traffic. CN appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

"With this decision, CN has run out of options to delay. CN has failed to convince the highest court in Canada to allow a further appeal," Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro said in a statement.

"CN must fix its bridge and reopen this important connection between Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation."

The city said CN has failed to uphold its legally binding 1906 Agreement with the city to maintain and keep it open to vehicular traffic.

The City of Thunder Bay will hold a media conference at 11 a.m. on Thursday to give further comment on the matter.

Lots of legal battles

CN attempted to obtain a stay in its case, which was denied in November, 2018. In that decision, Justice Janet Simmons noted, "it is unlikely that CN will succeed in its application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada."

The railway originally signaled in July 2018 that it would apply for leave to the Supreme Court of Canada, which at the time, "outraged" the City of Thunder Bay.

In the stay decision, the railway said it had already started the process for construction drawings to have the bridge repaired, and those drawings could be ready by mid-December.

The city has maintained since the bridge caught on fire in October 2013, a 1906 agreement between the Town of Fort William, now the City of Thunder Bay and the Grand Trunk Railway, which is now CN Rail, bound the railway to maintain the bridge to vehicular traffic in perpetuity.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled in June 2017 the railway, CN, was not responsible for repairing the bridge to again allow vehicle traffic across the structure. 

The city appealed that decision in August 2017, and the original ruling was overturned by the Ontario Court of Appeal in June 2018.

The decision from the court of appeal said, "the right to cross the bridge perpetually, and the obligation to maintain the bridge in perpetuity can only mean the parties intended the bridge to be open for any kind of vehicle, not just horses and carts."

CN Rail then applied for leave to the Supreme Court of Canada in July 2018.

"We are confident that the decision of the Court of Appeal is correct," former Mayor Keith Hobbs said at the time.

Mauro said the city is pleased with the court decision, but has not yet seen drawings as to how the bridge will be repaired.

He said the city is concerned CN may try another legal avenue to delay repairing the bridge, but is unsure of what other recourse the company could take.

About the Author

Jeff Walters


Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.