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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's top court ruled on Thursday that a Quebec municipality did not have the right to prevent wireless provider Rogers Communications from building a cell phone tower on municipal land.
In 2008, Rogers told Chateauguay, a suburb of Montreal, that it intended to build a telecommunications tower to fill gaps in its wireless coverage on a site the company had been renting since December 2007.
The site was authorized by the industry minister at the time but Chateauguay ultimately issued a notice of reserve, essentially blocking the project, saying that it was concerned for the health and safety of people living in the area.
Rogers argued that the notice was unconstitutional as it amounted to an exercise of federal power. Canada's parliament holds jurisdiction over radiocommunication.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Rogers in a unanimous decision. In its majority opinion, the court found that the notice was beyond the scope of Chateauguay's power.
"The notice impairs the core of the federal power over radio communication in that it comprises the orderly development and efficient operation of radio communication in Canada," the court wrote.
While Chateauguay initially opposed the project it eventually issued a construction permit, but after a public outcry the city proposed an alternative site.
However, the second site required the city expropriate the owner and Rogers decided to go ahead with the first site. The city then issued a notice of land reserve.
Rogers argued that the city had acted in bad faith, but a Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that the city had acted with legitimate municipal purpose to protect the welfare of its residents.
The majority opinion of the Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeal had erred in its finding that municipalities have a certain degree of power in determining the locations of telecommunications poles.
"We conclude that the siting of antenna systems is part of the core of the federal power over radiocommunication and that any other conclusion would make it impossible for Parliament to achieve the purpose for which this power was conferred on it," the court wrote.
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Meredith Mazzilli