Montrealers who were allegedly exposed to a toxic sulphur trioxide cloud, Aug. 9, 2004, have flocked to sign up online at nuagetoxique.com for a billion-dollar class action lawsuit.
As this week’s edition of The Suburban went to press, lawyer Chantal Desjardins was preparing to ask the court to order Swiss mining firm Xstrata to deposit a $332 million guarantee with the court to ensure payment of any judgment that might eventually be made against Xstrata.
Desjardins told The Suburban in an electronic mail reply to questions that the figure reflects the potential claim of the 33,578 Montreal-region residents who have already registered for the class action since The Suburban first reported on the lawsuit, June 27. Most of them are located in West Island suburbs and westward.
The damages being claimed were allegedly caused by a release of fumes after an absorption pump failed at the company’s zinc refinery in Valleyfield, Quebec. The number of claimants could quintuple, if the court accepts the statement of an employee to firemen that 10 tonnes of sulphur trioxide were emitted that day, rather than the 5.95 tonnes originally alleged.
Xstrata, which acquired its ownership stake in the refinery as part of its 25 percent interest in the Noranda Income Fund, is itself the object of a $78 billion (£50 billion) merger with the Swiss firm Glencore—a transaction which could turn Glencore into the fourth-largest mining firm in the world
The Montreal lawsuit, which could eventually top $1 billion in damage claims, is mentioned as a potential liability in a merger prospectus which The Suburban has obtained. An earlier, 2009 prospectus, issued two years before the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Xstrata’s appeal against the ongoing class action lawsuit, stated “Xstrata believes it is unlikely that the appeal will be allowed.”
Shareholders will vote on the Xstrata merger on Friday, Sept. 7, though Qatar Holding, which owns 12.5 percent of Xstrata, has said that it will vote against the deal. Only 16.5 percent of shareholders need to vote against, to block the merger.
Toronto-based Xstrata corporate affairs manager Brad Ryder told The Suburban in an electronic mail follow-up to a telephone interview that “the [Valleyfield] zinc refinery is managed and operated by Canadian Electrolytic Zinc Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of N-Zinc Limited, which is in turn wholly owned by Xstrata Canada Corporation.”
“We look forward to this trial and the opportunity it presents to have all evidence brought forward so the court can make a determination on this matter,” he said