Feds lose bid to quash lawsuit brought by Bridgewater wharf owners


  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>The former HMCS Cormorant while it was the former government wharf in Bridgewater.</p>

The federal government has lost its bid to quash a lawsuit launched by the private sector owners of Bridgewater's former government wharf.

In an order released April 6, the federal court dismissed a motion initiated by the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada Minister Bernadette Jordan - defendants in the Rick Welsford/Port of Bridgewater statement-of-claim - calling for the proceedings to stop or the action be struck down.

What the national government did get from the high court was a deadline of May 6 to file a defence, if it chooses to do so.

The Port of Bridgewater and its president, Welsford, allege Jordan and the CCG unlawfully interfered in its south LaHave Street operations and didn't have proper grounds to seize the former navy ship Cormorant. The lawsuit containing the allegations, none of which have been tested in court, was filed in July 2020.

Welsford claims the federal government for years blocked opportunities for the Port of Bridgewater to sell the Cormorant. The vessel spent 20 years at the wharf, before the 75-metre derelict ship was deemed a pollution risk and was permanently exiled from town by tugboat escort in November 2020.

The port only assumed custody of the decommissioned vessel in 2019 in a federal court ruling after American owners stopped involvement with the boat.

It's alleged the port and Ottawa reached an understanding that allowed for both the recovery of cargo and for the vessel to be sold. Government, however, stepped in and seized the Cormorant and led efforts to remove contaminants from the ship. This served as a catalyst to the lawsuit led by Welsford and the port.

"The existence and validity of the agreement, as well as its exact terms, may be disputed, but if the facts in the statement of claim are accepted as true, the plaintiffs [Welsford/Port of Bridgewater] have alleged a valid private law cause of action for damages," reads the April 6 federal court order, in part. "In the court's view, it is not plain and obvious that that the plaintiffs' claim for breach of agreement has no reasonable prospect of success."

Speaking to LighthouseNOW, Welsford said the federal government now has to defend its "mismanagement." Ottawa could also appeal the order, or even try to settle the matter.

For its part, the CCG, a department among Jordan's cabinet portfolio, is saying little about what its next move may be. "As the matter is before the courts the Canadian Coast Guard cannot provide comment at this time," department spokesman Stephen Bornais told LighthouseNOW in an email.

Welsford, who ran in 2009 as a Liberal candidate provincially in Lunenburg, is adamant politics is at play.

"They wanted the Cormorant to be the example for the minister [Jordan] to support her new legislation and that's cost us all," he told LighthouseNOW, referring to the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, which came into affect in early 2019. "And, at the end of the day, it didn't support her legislation. It didn't fit and they tried."

Welsford and the port were also awarded costs associated to the April 6 motion, which Welsford estimates amounts to probably a four-figure sum.

An earlier aspect of the lawsuit, the part where Welsford and the port sought an injunction prohibiting the removal, selling, dismantling, destroying or disposing of the Cormorant or its contents, failed months ago.

Welsford hopes the matter soon gets resolved.

"The port was the coast guard's best friend up until the Cormorant," he said. "No one's looking for revenge, but this thing has got to stop."

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