CAEPLA BLOG

When a Project Like TMX Becomes Political, Local Property Rights Are Ignored

Posted on August 26, 2020

 

By Dave Core

This is exactly what has happened with the TMX pipeline.

It is amazing how quickly Kinder Morgan employees and pipeline industry people have become bureaucrats fully ignoring the property rights of landowners and of the communities they operate around.

No sooner had the Trans Mountain expansion project become an Ottawa Crown corporation than the disrespect began.

TMX is a fully politicized project.  But even though all politics are local, the wishes of the locals are being sacrificed for the federal and provincial political agendas.

And tragically, when it comes to respecting property rights, all the political parties are Liberals now – all appear to be hiding behind Bill C69.

Property seizures jumped 580% after Montreal transferred power to civil servants

In 2016, Montreal city hall quietly delegated a seldom-used power to bureaucrats

Author of the article:

Linda Gyulai  •  Montreal Gazette

The number of expropriations of private land exploded in Montreal four years ago when city hall quietly delegated its seldom used power to take properties for use as streets and alleys to civil servants, documents obtained by the Montreal Gazette reveal.

For decades, city departments responsible for real estate transactions and infrastructure had to obtain approval from Montreal’s top decision-making body, the city executive committee, to use a section of the city charter that’s written expressly to enable the expropriation of private properties for streets, places and lanes.

Property seizures jumped 580% after Montreal transferred power to civil servants

But in May 2016, the executive committee under former mayor Denis Coderre delegated its authority to use Section 192 of Schedule C of the charter to the civil servants — specifically civil servants at the level of department director, according to the documents obtained through Quebec’s access to information law. The power gives the bureaucrats full control to decide behind closed doors what properties to expropriate without needing the executive committee to pass a public resolution on it.

And after the power was transferred to city employees, the number of times Section 192 was used to acquire property for the city rose more than sixfold, the documents show. The city clerk’s office gave the newspaper the files for every expropriation under Section 192 since 2010 in response to the newspaper’s request for information for the past decade.

The files show that between 2010 and May 2016, the executive committee approved 67 expropriations under Section 192 of the charter — an average of 10 expropriations per year.

After the power to use Section 192 was delegated to the civil service, there were more than 200 such expropriations between mid-2016 and August 2019, the files reveal. Between 2016 and 2019, city employees expropriated, on average, 68 properties per year, which means the city was expropriating the same number of properties each year that it had taken during all of the previous six-and-a-half years.

Just as before the power was delegated, the vast majority of the expropriations from 2016 to 2019 appear to be corrections of anomalies in title transfers decades ago when the city built alleys as access for fire trucks behind row housing.

But not all of the civil servants’ 200 expropriations under Section 192 were corrections of title — and not every expropriated property was an actual alley or street.

Among the properties expropriated by the civil servants in 2017 were parcels of land belonging to Christos Goulakos and Gilles Labrèche in a vacant Pointe-aux-Trembles field. As a Montreal Gazette article revealed in June, the two elderly men were unaware until the newspaper contacted them recently that the city had taken ownership of their respective properties three years earlier.

A 1912 cadastral plan for a housing project that was never built in the field showed their lots and other lots as future streets and lanes. It was the city that sold the lots to individuals at public auctions in the 1980s to early 2000s.

The city comptroller general’s office has launched an investigation into the city’s appropriation of Goulakos and Labrèche’s lots and its attempt to take other owners’ parcels in the field without compensation, Suzanne Décarie, city councillor for Pointe-aux-Trembles, said last week. Décarie filed a complaint with the comptroller general in response to the article.

Section 192 entitles an expropriated owner to compensation from the city.

“One thing is certain, if citizens have not been compensated at their fair value for the acquisition of their land and have been misled, they should obtain redress,” Décarie said.

One of the questions she said she raised with the comptroller general is whether it’s even legal for the city to invoke Section 192 to take lots that are vacant and that the city has no intention of using as streets and alleys.

Goulakos’s sons say they’ve filed a complaint with the city ombudsman’s office on behalf of their father.

Meanwhile, the Pointe-aux-Trembles field isn’t the only file among the more than 200 expropriations between 2016 and 2019 that raises questions.

For example, nothing in a November 2017 civil service report concerning the expropriation of a lane behind buildings between Laval and Hôtel-de-Ville Aves., north of Sherbrooke St. E., in Plateau Mont-Royal borough appears to have ever happened.

The report, signed by two employees of the geomatics division of the city’s infrastructure, roadwork and transportation department, said the city would register a deed at the provincial land registry office to take ownership of the alley. The file also said that an adjacent alley in the same block had been acquired by the city in 1984.

However, the city never acquired the latter lot, according to the Registre Foncier du Québec. Moreover, the records show the city didn’t file the deed on the other lot that was supposed to be acquired in 2017.

In fact, the two lanes were part of a private sale in 2018. A company sold its rights to both alleys to another company as part of the sale of an adjacent office building.

The more than 200 expropriations between 2016 and 2019 turned up other anomalies, including:

  • Several of the lots weren’t in the city’s evaluation roll before expropriation, meaning no municipal taxes were charged on them — and they aren’t there now, even though city-owned properties are supposed to be there;
  • The municipal evaluation roll still lists the original owners of several other lots expropriated by the city — and some of them lived 150 years ago;
  • In some files, the civil servants describe their exhaustive searches of genealogical records and obituaries to find any living heir of the last known owner of a lot that was being expropriated under Section 192. However, the same civil servants, who carried out the expropriation of the lots in the Pointe-aux-Trembles field, apparently didn’t even look in a phone book for Goulakos to tell him his land was being expropriated.

The power to expropriate under Section 192 once belonged to the city council, which delegated it to the executive committee in 2003. The executive committee, in turn, transferred it to the civil service as part of a 2016 bylaw amending the city Bylaw Concerning the Delegation of Powers to Officers and Employees.

Décarie, who is a member of Ensemble Montréal, Coderre’s old party, said even borough councils delegate to civil servants because councillors couldn’t possibly oversee every routine action.

“There’s nothing wrong with delegating powers,” she said. “But we don’t expect anyone to use them to take people’s land behind their backs. That’s where the problem is.”