Whitemud Drainage Case Against Province To Continue

Adecades-old legal battle against the Manitoba government over damage caused by drainage in the Whitemud watershed will continue despite efforts by the province to end it.

A Manitoba Queen’s Bench court last week postponed the government’s motion to dismiss the action by local landowners after it appeared at least some of them are willing to continue the fight.

A June 7 hearing in Winnipeg was told the chairman of a local landowners’ association had engaged Martin Pollock, a Winnipeg lawyer, to contest the government’s attempt to have the case dismissed.

The judge granted Pollock’s request to adjourn proceedings until he could consult with his clients and see how many want to pursue the matter.

A similar hearing was held in Portage la Prairie the following day.

Court heard the group potentially involves 89 local landowners who allege long-standing damage to their properties resulting from provincial drainage projects in the region stretching over decades.

The case goes back to the 1970s when local landowners say drainage works by the province in the Whitemud watershed caused extensive flooding of farmland in the region. Plaintiffs allege the province was negligent in maintaining drainage systems in such a way as to worsen the flooding.

The Whitemud watershed lies north of the Assiniboine River between Riding Mountain and Lake Manitoba.

Two brothers, Leonard and Haldar Bjarnarson, separately sued the province in the 1980s and were awarded damages. But claims by other affected landowners were never settled.

Now the government wants the court to dismiss the action because it says too much time has passed.

Court documents filed by the province say efforts over the years to settle the matter out of court through compensation were unsuccessful. Some of the original plaintiffs, including the Bjarnarson brothers, have since died. Records have been lost or destroyed and it is now impossible to assess damage claims properly, the province claims.

Descendants of the original plaintiffs say an out-of-court settlement did not work because the province’s proposal would have alleviated flooding for upstream landowners but made it worse for those living downstream. [email protected]

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