Canada's top court finally ends decades-old contamination case

Fri Jul 24, 2015 4:02pm EDT
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By Allison Lampert

MONTREAL (Reuters) - An industrial contamination lawsuit brought a quarter century ago has been dismissed by the Supreme Court of Canada, bringing an end to a case dating as far back as 1924 that involved black tar so sticky that horses caught in its grip had to be shot.

The Supreme Court of Canada this week refused to hear a case filed by Canadian National Railway Co. in 1989, relating to the contamination.

It pointed to lower court decisions that questioned how a fair trial could be held about a tar spill that CN said traced back to between 1924 and 1958.

"By the time the litigation commenced in June 1989, the issues were already 30 to 65 years old," court documents said.

"While the first 14 years of delay were excusable, the delay between the years 2003 and 2014 was inordinate and inexcusable," the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said in 2014.

Court documents said that CN never responded to requests in 1997 by the Ontario town of Kitchener to examine five elderly witnesses, some of whom were ill.

Montreal-based CN said that tar produced as a by-product of a coal gasification plant operated by the town migrated on to its property between 1924 and 1958, according to court records.

CN alleged that the city was dumping the coal tar on neighboring lands owned by the defendant, Hogg Fuel & Supply Ltd.   Continued...