Supreme Court dismisses challenge of CDN-NDG bylaw restricting fast-food restaurants

New fast-food restaurants will remain restricted to a handful of streets in the Montreal borough of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, after Canada’s top court dismissed a challenge to the borough’s bylaw, adopted in an effort to encourage healthier food choices.

The challenge, brought by industry group Restaurants Canada and some major restaurant chains, including McDonald’s, St-Hubert and A&W, aimed to invalidate the 2016 zoning bylaw, arguing that the borough did not have the right to limit where fast-food restaurants could open .

But the Supreme Court of Canada announced yesterday that it would not hear the case.

“It’s really an important recognition that municipal governments have a role to play in promoting healthy lifestyles for the residents,” said Gracia Kasoki Katahwa, Projet Montréal borough mayor.

Former city councilor Marvin Rotrand had proposed the bylaw as part of a broader public health initiative. The regulation does not take into account what type of food is served, but defines a fast-food restaurant as one that only offers counter service and disposable plates and utensils.

“It is good news for the public that the Supreme Court has refused to hear Restaurant Canada’s last-ditch effort to overturn a local authority’s zoning powers,” Rotrand said in an email.

The bylaw isn’t just about where new fast-food restaurants can operate, he said, but also about the ability of local councils to make decisions regarding traffic, noise and litter on commercial streets.

It would have been a significant loss for municipalities should the Supreme Court have overturned the measure, he said, because “it would have restricted what a municipality could actually do.”

Rotrand, who retired in November after 39 years on council, said he is proud to have championed the bylaw and the borough’s healthy lifestyle policy.

Former city councilor Marvin Rotrand proposed the bylaw, as part of a broader public health initiative. I have retired from municipal politics last year. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Restaurant chains challenged the new rules at the time, but it was upheld by the Quebec Superior Court in 2019.

Katahwa, who was elected borough mayor last November, is a trained nurse and said she remembered studying the bylaw in a health and law policies course. She said the bylaw can encourage healthier habits by, for example, “increasing the distance between schools and some fast-food restaurants.”

Bylaw doesn’t limit ‘choice or freedom,’ councilor says

The bylaw restricts new fast-food restaurants to a few locations, including sections of Décarie Boulevard, Saint-Jacques Street and the Plaza Côte-des-Neiges shopping centre. It excludes other commercial areas such as Sherbrooke Street, Monkland Avenue and Queen Mary Road.

Sonny Moroz, Ensemble Montréal city councilor for the Snowdon district, said he doesn’t believe restricting new fast-food restaurants in these areas is having a negative effect on business development.

“If you’ve gone to these arteries, you’ve seen that there’s already a good mix of fast-food chains there,” he said. “Hopefully this by law being institutionalized will just promote a better mix of offerings for the citizens. So, I don’t think it limits choice or freedom.”

Gracia Kasoki Katahwa, who was elected borough mayor Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce last fall, applauded the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the court challenge. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Katahwa said there are still new restaurants opening in these areas, and said the borough is working to support the vitality of its commercial arteries.

“The energy needs to be put into making sure that we help the entrepreneurs to come in and … choose the streets like Sherbrooke Street,” she said.

Katahwa acknowledged that often fast food may be a more affordable option for people who are struggling with rising food prices. But she said the borough is working to make sure healthier food options are available.

“We work closely with organizations that promote food safety and security in the borough, for example,” she said.

Restaurants Canada and St-Hubert declined to comment on the dismissal, while McDonald’s did not respond to a request for comment.

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