Group takes legal action on Memorial to Victims of Communism

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Heritage Ottawa, and architects Barry Padolsky and Shirley Blumberg today began an application in the Federal Court challenging the National Capital Commission’s decision to break ground for the Memorial to Victims of Communism.

The lawsuit alleges that the National Capital Commission (NCC) violated its procedures for public consultation, and acted against the National Capital Act in its hasty decision to prepare the site despite having no finalized and approved design for the memorial. The law requires meaningful public consultation and prohibits breaking ground on a project before its design is approved.  

The applicants are asking the Federal Court to set aside a June 25th decision by the NCC to initiate construction of the memorial by granting a Federal Land Use Approval to decontaminate the site. The applicants are also asking the government to refrain from erecting hoarding and breaking ground until their hearing. If the government proceeds, the applicants will swiftly return to Federal Court for a court-ordered injunction to preserve the site. The respondents have 10 days to oppose the application.

The applicants are professional architects and non-governmental organizations having a professional and community interest in the built environment and Ottawa’s iconic and symbolic role as Canada’s capital.

The memorial is to go in the judicial precinct, immediately southwest of the Supreme Court of Canada and on the north side of Wellington Street in Ottawa. The applicants do not oppose the commemorative intent of the memorial and believe that other appropriate sites exist. They are concerned that the precipitous decision of the NCC to approve groundbreaking runs contrary to the National Capital Act and the Long-Term Vision and Plan for the district. They believe that any such decision requires meaningful public consultation given the significance of the site to Canada’s heritage and democracy.

The National Capital Act prohibits the commencement of any project, as by breaking ground, prior to the proposal being submitted and approved. The final architectural and landscape design for the memorial is not yet finished. The applicants say that, despite the far-reaching ramifications of the project, the NCC has not provided adequate public notice and consultation.

For example, the public had virtually no notice of the NCC decision document on decontamination. NCC staff shared it with the public just minutes before it came up on the June 25th board meeting agenda. Neither did the NCC give advance notice of the nature of the site contamination so that members of the public could have an informed opinion and make submissions on the necessity of the proposed decontamination.

The Crown has planned and developed the area in carefully measured steps since the decision of Queen Victoria to name Ottawa as Canada’s capital in 1857. A series of plans have evolved into today’s Long-Term Vision and Plan (LTVP) for the Parliamentary and Judicial Precincts. The NCC approved the current LTVP after an extensive consultative process involving many government stakeholders. It includes the vision of completing a harmonious “triad” within the judicial precinct by erecting a new signature building (the Federal Court) west of the Justice Building. This would aesthetically and symbolically complement the triad in the parliamentary precinct, comprised of the West Block, Centre Block, and East Block.

Ottawa lawyers Paul Champ and Christine Johnson of Champ & Associates are acting for the applicants with assistance from University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran.