Here’s a little news story of direct interest only to people in Vancouver, but it’s pleasant and uplifting; made me smile and might please others too. And it gives me a chance to gloat a little bit.
The History · What happened was, partly in preparation for the Olympics coming here next year, several layers of government got together and built a big subway line (the Canada Line because the Feds paid most) from downtown through the airport, much of it along Cambie Street, very near where I live.
As a side-effect, the merchants along Cambie street pretty well got raped. The subway, which had been pitched as a bore-from-underneath project, suddenly at the last minute turned into a “cut-and-cover” project. Here are a couple of pictures from August 2007 that illustrate what “cut and cover” means.
You can just make out the awnings and signs of the businesses along either side. You can’t hear the continuous roar of heavy equipment or feel the endless grit and dust in your lungs and on your clothes. This state of affairs persisted for multiple years. As well you can imagine, business was not good. I wrote about it before in Going, Going, Gone.
The Court Case · It turns out that Susan Heyes, one of the victims, got mad enough, and was determined enough, to take three levels of government, the public-transit company, and the subway contractors, to court for damages. Today, she won.
Well, not entirely. She sued for misrepresentation, negligence, and nuisance, and only won on the nuisance count. Also, the various levels of government got off the hook, leaving the transit company and contractor holding the bag.
I actually spent an hour today reading the whole 72-page PDF of the decision, and I have to say that Judge Pittfield, he da man! It’s remarkably lucid and readable; I’d sure hate to have to file an appeal against it.
Why This Makes Me Happy · First, it’s an illustration that the workings of justice occasionally line up with what you and I would consider common sense. The judge’s arguments concerning why, although Ms Heyes was arguably misled, this did not consitute “misrepresentation”, and while the experience was nasty, this did not constitute “negligence”, are pretty compelling. And the argument about “nuisance” seems to suggest that the legal and everyday meanings of that word are remarkably similar. Yes, the construction was a big damn nuisance, and apparently the law says, straightforwardly enough, that one party may not wilfully inflict a damaging nuisance on another without incurring some responsibility for the consequences.
(OK, I admit that the judge’s reasoning as to why the Federal, Provincial, and City governments got off the hook went too far into legal technicalities for me to follow.)
The second pleasing thing about this is that I’m reminded that, to quote David Brin, “I am a member of a civilization.” And in this one we have a legal system which, however imperfect, can be used by a shopkeeper to take on three levels of government and a huge company and deliver what smells to me like real justice. There are lots of places in the world where this could never happen.