Bridge lawsuit baseless, city says

Claire Brownell, The Windsor Star

The City of Windsor is forging ahead with an appeal hearing of the city’s order that the Ambassador Bridge company fix up its derelict Sandwich properties, despite the company’s recent lawsuit against the municipality.

Chris Williams, a lawyer who is representing the city in the property standards conflict, said the bridge’s application to get the Federal Court of Canada to confirm it doesn’t have to comply with the work orders is baseless. Whether the bridge company likes it or not, the hearing is set for Monday morning before the city’s property standards committee, he said.

“The property standards bylaws, as well as any other bylaw in the City of Windsor, apply to them just as they would to any other property owner,” Williams said. As for the federal court application, “we don’t think it has any bearing whatsoever on the property standards order or on the property standards committee in dealing with those orders.”

The city recently gave the Bridge Company’s Canadian arm, the Canadian Transit Company, until Thursday to get more than 100 residential homes and other Olde Sandwich properties that it has purchased, vacated and boarded up over the years back into decent condition.

In the application to the Federal Court filed last week, the CTC argues a piece of legislation from 1921 – before the bridge was built – exempts the company from municipal bylaws and grants it the power to expropriate property if the company needs to in order to operate and maintain the bridge.

Staff at bridge company president Dan Stamper’s office said he was in meetings all day

and unavailable for comment. In an interview with The Star after the CTC filed the lawsuit, Stamper said the company needs to knock down the abandoned homes to do maintenance work on the bridge.

The company also wants to build a twin span next to the existing bridge that would run over Indian Road, which runs parallel to the bridge one block west. The company currently has no permits or approvals to construct a twin span and the plan is opposed by all three levels of government, with Canadian political leaders throwing their support behind a new, publicly owned bridge set for construction farther west.

Mayor Eddie Francis said the lawsuit is little more than an attempt to stall the work orders and convince the public the bridge has more power than it actually does.

“I don’t even think they have jurisdiction to bring it to federal court. In my opinion, that’s how frivolous their attempt is,” he said. “That doesn’t stop them from trying to create the

impression they have the authority to do what they want to do.”

The CTC Act of 1921 – the piece of legislation the bridge is relying on in its arguments before the federal court – does grant the company certain expropriation powers. However, there are several precedents and other laws that will pose a challenge to the company’s argument that the CTC Act allows it to ignore municipal bylaws and work orders.

The CTC Act itself says the company needs the city’s permission to expropriate property that’s “along any highway, street or other public place.” There’s also a much more recent piece of legislation – the International Bridges and Tunnels Act of 2007 – that says property expropriation on behalf of international bridges and tunnels has to be done by the Crown.

The bridge has fought the International Bridges and Tunnels Act in court unsuccessfully. In June, North American Free Trade Agreement arbitration determined the International Bridges and Tunnels Act supersedes the 1921 CTC Act.

Anneke Smit, a University of Windsor law professor and an expert in expropriation, said that in this case it doesn’t matter whether the CTC has expropriation powers because that’s not how it acquired the properties. The company bought them from consenting homeowners.

“My guess is that the Court will find that the provision of the earlier Act which permits the Bridge company to expropriate is inconsistent with the expropriation provision of the 2007 (International Bridges and Tunnels Act),” Smit said in an email interview.

“At least since that time all expropriation for the purposes of the Bridge would have had to have been done by the federal government, to later be transferred to the Bridge company, which of course has not been done.”

The bridge has also sued the City of Windsor over the fate of the Indian Road homes before – and that didn’t work in the company’s favour, either. In September 2011, the Superior Court of Justice found the CTC, not the City of Windsor, was responsible for the shabby state of the homes in Sandwich and determined the city acted in good faith when it passed a bylaw preventing the company from demolishing the homes.

Property owners on Indian Road recently turned the tables and slapped the CTC with a lawsuit of their own, alleging the company has neglected its duty to maintain the properties to a basic standard that avoids causing a nuisance and depressing property values. Harvey Strosberg, who is representing the homeowners in that lawsuit, said the question of whether municipal bylaws apply to the bridge company has already been settled in court.

“The legal proposition is nonsense,” he said. “The CTC reminds me of Custer’s last stand, on Indian Road. They’re desperate.”