“We are asking the federal government to set aside this money … and to come sit down with us,” Gelinas said. “Let’s see how we can use this money to help victims who have been waiting for 10 years. This is money that, in the end, SNC-Lavalin owes us.”
Gelinas said 8,000 construction permits were given to build homes and businesses between 1996-2008 in the Mauricie region, and all of the properties are potentially damaged by pyrrhotite. More than 800 properties were listed in the 2014 ruling, and Gelinas says another 1,000 will be included in subsequent suits that are being planned.
“There is a crisis in the Mauricie,” Gelinas said. “We are appealing to SNC-Lavalin to be good corporate citizens. We’ve lived through suicides, divorces, bankruptcies.”
Gelinas said he personally knows of 10 owners of pyrrhotite-damaged properties who have killed themselves, while many others have gone broke or suffered through personal tragedies due to the stress of having a home with a damaged foundation.
He said the provincial government has offered up to $75,000 in loans to individual owners of pyrrhotite-damaged properties, but legal experts have estimated the average damage to each property is just under $200,000. In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised $30 million over three years to owners of damaged homes.
But Gelinas said his members need more money to cover their costs, and that money should come from SNC-Lavalin.
The engineering company and two of its affiliates, SNC-Lavalin Construction and SNC-Lavalin International, were charged in 2015 with corruption of a foreign public official and fraud stemming from business dealings in Libya.
SNC-Lavalin Construction settled that case in December. The company pleaded guilty to a charge of fraud over $5,000 and agreed to pay a $280-million penalty and be subject to a three-year probation order. The remaining charges were stayed.
Gelinas said his group has a meeting scheduled next week with the office of Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, whose riding is located in the Mauricie region. Representatives from Champagne’s office, the PMO and for SNC-Lavalin could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The 2014 ruling holds SNC-Lavalin responsible for 70 per cent of roughly $200-million worth of damage to about 800 homes. The rest of the responsibility was split between the companies that made the concrete and the construction contractors who built the properties.
None of the other companies found responsible in 2014 have paid, Gelinas said, because they are waiting to hear what will happen with SNC-Lavalin’s appeal. He said a ruling is expected in early 2020.
“Everyone is very much looking forward to getting the judgement,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 30, 2019.
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press