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The highway, the truck stop and the Supreme Court

When Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation built Highway 417 in 2004, Jack Cameron was left with a truck stop on a dirt road.

Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail/dave chan The Globe and Mail

It's called the Antrim Truck Stop, and its website says it will "always" be known by this name.

The family business sells trucks and truck parts, has a 148-seat restaurant serving "country-cookin'" and a "God and Country Gift Shop" offering commemorative Second World War paintings.

Despite its name, the business isn't actually in tiny Antrim, Ont., outside Ottawa. The truck stop is in nearby Arnprior.

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Proprietor Jack Cameron used to operate a similar truck stop just south of the hamlet of Antrim, right alongside the old Highway 17. But when Ontario's Ministry of Transportation built the new four-lane divided Highway 417 in 2004, the province realigned the route 500 metres to the south.

That left Mr. Cameron with a truck stop on a dirt road. The new location would have forced his customers using the new highway to take a two-kilometre detour to reach his business, which had grown from when he purchased it from his mother-in-law in 1978 into an outfit with 100 employees and $15-million in revenue.

Six weeks after the new highway opened, Mr. Cameron abandoned the original property and opened a new truck stop at his current location in Arnprior on property purchased in 1986.

And he did more than defiantly keep Antrim in his new truck stop's name. He also launched a court battle seeking compensation for the move that continues eight years later and is now headed down the 417 to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Earlier this month, the country's top court granted Mr. Cameron's lawyers leave to appeal a decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal last year that denied him any compensation.

It's a case that is being closely watched by lawyers who specialize in expropriation law.

At issue is the compensation that landowners deserve when their businesses are affected by a large public works project, but their land is not actually expropriated. The concept is known as "injurious affection." And it is a potential litigation battleground whenever governments reroute roads or allow the building of power plants or public transit lines that affect nearby businesses and property owners.

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The issues in the case are also of interest to governments, and by extension, taxpayers. If landowners in this situation are entitled to large amounts of compensation, other big infrastructure projects could get more expensive.

Mr. Cameron's Toronto lawyer, Shane Rayman of Rueter Scargall Bennett LLP, said his client declined to be interviewed but is pleased his fight will go before the top court.

"Jack Cameron has spent his life working hard for his property," said Mr. Rayman, who has acted for clients in other high-profile expropriations. "His claim against the Ministry of Transportation has been a long and stressful process."

A spokesman for Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney-General said the government would not comment on the case, as it is before the court.

Mr. Rayman argues in his submission to the Supreme Court that the Ontario Court of Appeal's decision redrew the battle lines for this kind of injurious affection claim in a way that makes it next to impossible for landowners in this type of situation to receive any compensation.

The appeal court overturned lower-court rulings that give Mr. Cameron $393,000 to compensate for the decline in market value of his property, ruling instead he deserved nothing. He had originally sought $8.2-million to cover the costs of moving and building a second truck stop.

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Under Ontario's Expropriation Act, landowners whose land is not actually expropriated can still be compensated for a decline in market value they suffer as a result of the building of a highway or other public project.

Landowners can also receive money to compensate them for business losses that come just during the construction of a public infrastructure project, but not those that result from the existence of the completed project.

But the appeal court ruling, which notes that Mr. Cameron's move to the new location has been "financially beneficial," said the question of compensation hinges on whether the "nuisance" or "interference" caused was reasonable, given the benefits of the public works project.

In this case, the issue was clearly the safety of the highway. Before the four-lane 417 was completed, the old Highway 17 was at capacity and known as the "killer highway" for its accident record.

"Simply put, the [new]highway was built to save lives," the Ontario Court of Appeal said, ruling that the changes to the highway access to the Antrim property were in line with those of typical Ontario truck stops and therefore the changes were not unreasonable.

Whatever the result, the country's expropriation lawyers will be watching the outcome at the Supreme Court. The practice of expropriation law has seen a boom in cases as infrastructure projects across the country picked up steam in recent years.

Mr. Rayman said his client hopes a win at the Supreme Court will send a message: "Mr. Cameron seeks justice and fair consideration of Antrim's claim for compensation under the Expropriations Act for losses suffered, showing that the rights of property owners are protected throughout Canada."

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About the Author
Toronto City Hall Reporter

Jeff Gray is The Globe and Mail’s Toronto City Hall reporter. He has worked at The Globe since 1998. From 2010 to 2016, he was the law reporter in Report on Business, covering Bay Street law firms and white-collar crime. He won an honourable mention at the National Magazine Awards for investigative journalism in 2010. More

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