Judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada - A Municipality Cannot, by by-law, Prohibit the Operation of an Activity Within Federal Jurisdiction in a Zone on its Territory

On October 15, 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a decision in which it concluded that a municipality cannot establish a zone within which the operation of a federal activity is prohibited, in this case, an aerodrome. The operators of the aerodrome and aviation company were represented by a team from the firm of Lavery led by Mathieu Quenneville, which also included Jules Brière, Odette Jobin-Laberge, Yvan Biron and Sophie Prégent.

Originally, the municipality of Sacré-Cœur brought a motion for an injunction against an aviation company and its managers to prevent them from operating an aerodrome within a zone of its territory. Initially, this motion was granted by the Superior Court, but the Court of Appeal set aside that decision, holding that a municipal by-law which prescribes zones within which an aerodrome can be prohibited is constitutionally inapplicable.

The Attorney General of Quebec, which intervened in the file before the Superior Court in support of the municipality's claims, applied to the Supreme Court of Canada for a ruling on the validity of the disputed by-laws and, ultimately, that the aviation company be obliged to comply with the land use planning by-law of the municipality of Sacré-Cœur.

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of the Attorney General of Quebec.

According to the Supreme Court, the real object of the by-law was not related to zoning and did not fall under any provincial head of power. Rather, its essence was to regulate the location of aerodromes in the municipality, a matter within the exclusive federal jurisdiction over aeronautics. The provisions of the municipal by-law prohibiting aeronautical activities in the zone in question were therefore declared invalid by the Court.

This decision clarifies the framework for the constitutional analysis applying not only to aeronautics, but to any activity involving the division of constitutional powers, particularly in relation to radiocommunications, telecommunications, navigation, railway transportation and extra-provincial transportation.

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