AIM back in court in Saint John to fight suspension of approval to operate

AIM's approval to operate was suspended by the province after this fire at the company's scrap metal facility, on Saint John's west side, on Sept. 14,  2023. Over roughly 40 hours, Saint John firefighters used about two-million litres of water to battle the blaze. (Submitted by Ed Moyer - image credit)
AIM's approval to operate was suspended by the province after this fire at the company's scrap metal facility, on Saint John's west side, on Sept. 14, 2023. Over roughly 40 hours, Saint John firefighters used about two-million litres of water to battle the blaze. (Submitted by Ed Moyer - image credit)

Lawyers for American Iron & Metal were back in court in Saint John on Tuesday to sort through a tangled web of court applications.

Even Court of King's Bench Justice Thomas Christie was at a bit of a loss about how to efficiently unravel the intertwined legal actions that continue to grow with each court appearance, including a new document filed on Monday and another on Tuesday.

Christie said he is "afraid that the ultimate question to be decided is months — and I mean many months — away on the path that we're now on."

He also worried that "scheduling is going to be a problem." He said the case reminded him of the circus-type act where people spin multiple plates in the air at the same time.

"You can only spin so many plates," he said.

"The more plates that I have to spin, the more difficult it's going to be to get to the answer that your client needs."

Clarke Tedesco, a civil litigation lawyer with the Toronto-based firm of Crawley MacKewn Brush LLP and part of the team representing American Iron & Metal, leaves the Saint John courthouse on Tuesday afternoon.
Clarke Tedesco, a civil litigation lawyer with the Toronto-based firm of Crawley MacKewn Brush LLP and part of the team representing American Iron & Metal, leaves the Saint John courthouse on Tuesday afternoon.

Clarke Tedesco, a civil litigation lawyer with the Toronto-based firm of Crawley MacKewn Brush LLP and part of the team representing American Iron & Metal, leaves the Saint John courthouse on Tuesday afternoon. (Mia Urquhart/CBC)

Christie suggested to AIM lawyer Clarke Tedesco that he take the opportunity to see if the plaintiffs "want to reshuffle the chairs on the patio here."

With the goal of streamlining the legal process, Christie encouraged both sides to get together to see if they could forge a more efficient path to the heart of the matter.

The legal quagmire began in February when AIM requested a judicial review of the environment minister's decision to suspend its approval to operate after the massive fire at the company's waterfront scrapyard last September.

The New Brunswick government then asked the Court of King's Bench to toss out the company's request. Lawyers for the province filed a notice of motion seeking an order "striking out and dismissing" AIM's application on the basis it has become a moot point, after the company's approval to operate expired at the end of April.

And court filings have only grown since then.

Crews are focusing on making sure the fire in one pile of scrap doesn't spread to other piles.
Crews are focusing on making sure the fire in one pile of scrap doesn't spread to other piles.

The Sept. 14 fire resulted in a city-wide shelter-in-place order because of hazardous smoke. (Submitted by Ed Moyer)

It now consists of three notices of application, two notices of motion and three referrals — a procedure established by the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, allowing an applicant who has requested access to records to ask that the court review the disclosure provided by the public body, and either order further disclosure or confirm the head of the public body's decision to refuse access.

"It seems to have grown a life of its own, so to speak," said Christie.

After discussing how to approach the intertwined requests to the court for about an hour on Tuesday, Christie established a game plan for the next court appearance on Aug. 8. On that date, "at minimum," said Christie, they will deal with a request from the Saint John Community Coalition for intervener status.

The newly incorporated grassroots group previously known as Liveable Saint John, which advocates for the scrapyard to be permanently shut down or for more stringent regulations, filed a notice of motion last month to ask to be included.

AIM suspended after Sept. 14 fire

Former environment minister Gary Crossman suspended AIM's approval to operate on Sept. 19 because he was "of the opinion that there was an unauthorized release of contaminants" during the Sept. 14 scrapyard fire, in contravention of the Clean Air Act.

The fire burned for two days and prompted a city-wide shelter-in-place order because of hazardous smoke.

It also led to the creation of a task force to examine the fire. The group's final report was released in December and said future fires at the scrapyard are likely, and "a catastrophic fire similar to that of Sept. 14, 2023, could recur."

It also found that AIM's waterfront location, not far from hundreds of west side homes, is "entirely inappropriate given its now known hazards and risks."