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Social acceptability: An obstacle to the realization of construction projects?

On January 31, 2021, the Superior Court of Quebec in ‘’Coopérative funéraire du Grand Montréal’’ (hereinafter CFGM) v. City of Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville (hereinafter the City) rendered a judgment dealing with the obligation of a municipality, in the context of a plan approval under its Site Planning and Architectural Integration Bylaw, to approve plans when an applicant submits a project that is compliant with the applicable bylaws but imposes an approval criterion that is not provided for in the bylaws. The criterion of lack of social acceptability, which was not related to the conformity of the project and the approval of the plans submitted in relation to it, had been analyzed in terms of the impact on traffic, environment and property value of neighbouring properties, but was not included in the bylaws.

The Facts

In the summer of 2019, the CFGM submitted to the City a plan relating to the siting and architectural integration of the project (the "Plan") that it wished to build on its land intended for commercial use and allowing for the use of a crematorium and funeral home located at the corner of Parent Street and ‘’rang des Vingt-Cinq’’ (the "Land").

In August 2019, the City's Planning Advisory Committee (the "PAC") recommends approval of the Plan.

In the fall of 2019, the City unveiled the project. Shortly thereafter, citizens living near the project and unhappy, put their City on notice to prevent it from issuing a building permit to ensure that no crematorium would be built near their neighborhood. Demonstrations were held. The citizens have three main claims against the project: the inconvenience that will result from the increase in traffic, the environmental damage from the fumes from the burning of the corpses and the decrease in the value of nearby residential properties.

In November 2019, the CFGM files its application for a construction permit. A few hours later, on the same day, the City announced that a notice of motion to amend the zoning would be presented at the next City Council meeting to prohibit the use of a crematorium on the property. This intervention by the City was found by the Court to be lacking in objectivity and taken in bad faith.

The citizens who disagreed with the project requested that the crematorium be moved to an industrial zone. On January 27, 2020, in response to the citizens' demands, the City refused CFGM's PIan, arguing that it did not comply with the urban planning regulations and other standards in effect at the time of its filing. Faced with this refusal, CFGM is taking the City to court.

The Law

The City has discretion in approving the Plan, but it must exercise this discretion in accordance with the city's urban planning by-laws and more specifically in consideration of the criteria of the by-law on site planning and architectural integration.

Since social acceptability is not a criterion provided for in the by-law, the City must approve the project and the Plan, in addition to responding favourably to the application for a construction permit, all of which was deemed compliant by the Court.


While the City has discretion to approve or not approve the Plan, it is constrained by the criteria to be considered in the By-law and cannot refuse to approve the Plan on the basis of considerations other than those relating to the appearance or architectural integration of the Project.

When the City must approve or disapprove a submitted plan, it has a discretionary power, but it is circumscribed. It cannot consider elements that are not provided for in its by-law.

This judgment therefore establishes that if citizens object to a project that complies with a city's planning bylaws and their claims do not concern the siting and integration of the project into the surrounding environment, the citizens' pressure tactics or threats of legal action should not have influenced the decision to refuse to approve the plan.

Nor should citizens' opinions be considered in the process of issuing a building permit. In this case, local municipalities are bound by their zoning or other by-laws, whether discretionary or not, and must strictly enforce them.


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