November 2012

Municipalities and cultural heritage

By Daniel Goupil Lawyer

On October 19th, the Cultural Heritage Act (2011, chapter 21) replaced the Cultural Property Act, which had been in effect since 1972.

Under the new Act, a municipal council may create a local heritage committee that will advise municipal officials on the elements that make up the municipality's cultural heritage and which should be protected. In addition, municipalities will be tasked with determining the people, events, heritage sites, protection areas and cultural heritage landscapes (not to be confused with the former natural districts) that should be added to the cultural heritage register compiled by the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications.

The Act also reaffirms the power of expropriation held by municipalities to protect their cultural heritage and enables municipal organizations to stipulate conditions in their urban planning by-laws for altering, restoring, repairing or modifying heritage buildings.

Municipalities may now unilaterally order the owners of protected buildings to restrict or prohibit access to a location, stop any repair work or activities, implement special safety measures, carry out archaeological digs or apply any other necessary measure when a protected location is at risk. These orders are valid for up to 30 days and renewable by Québec Superior Court through a motion for an injunction.

Finally, municipalities may also obtain Superior Court orders to conduct work to preserve a building at the expense of the building owner, with all costs incurred by the municipality amounting to a property tax.

We invite all municipal officials seeking information on the Cultural Heritage Act to contact an attorney in the firm's municipal and environmental law sector.