Mass Transit Expropriations – Are Private Property Rights Maintained?
Major mass transit projects are popping up across Ontario, encouraged in part by major investments from the Provincial and Federal governments. The cities of Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa are all working on building or expanding transit systems with Light Rail Transit (LRT). Other municipalities are making substantial investments in faster bus systems, including dedicated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). These projects have the potential to be among the most transformational city-building projects to date for their respective cities, but this major infrastructure work often brings significant disruption on the way to completion.
A major impact of transit development for property owners along the route is the significant expropriation work often necessary to accommodate expanded transit. Municipal right-of-way widenings are often needed which can mean governments look to expropriate parts of properties, or sometimes entire properties along a transit route. When this happens, the expropriating authority has significant powers to take land for their use under Ontario’s Expropriations Act.
Expanded rapid transit may bring public benefits, but those benefits must be balanced with the protection of existing property interests. The basic principle for expropriation compensation was set out by the Supreme Court in Toronto Area Transit Operating Authority v. Dell Holdings Ltd.  1 SCR 32:
There is a presumption that owners will be fully compensated for all losses resulting from an expropriation – this includes costs for reasonably incurred professional fees from challenging compensation amounts.
The Expropriations Act sets out the procedures available to owners to ensure that they are properly compensated for the property they have lost. The Act also provides that owners are reimbursed for the reasonable professional fees that they incur to achieve this. The goal of the Act is to make owners whole.
Therefore, owners need not worry. While expropriations for major transit infrastructure have increased in recent years and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future, affected landowners should receive fair compensation for loss of private property.