Property owners should be compensated for emotional loss of home, law prof suggests

A UWindsor law professor believes it’s time to consider compensating people for the emotional loss they suffer when forced to give up their homes to make way for public infrastructure projects like the Windsor-Essex Parkway.

Anneke Smit

Law professor Anneke Smit.

“I think it’s time to look at whether our legislation actually does what we need it to do, and the emotional compensation question is just one aspect of that process,” said Anneke Smit, whose research interests include forced migration, property law, international and transnational law, and post-conflict justice.

The parkway is a $1.4 billion, 11-kilometer stretch of highway that will link Highway 401 with the new bridge, which will connect Windsor with Detroit. According to a recent Windsor Star article, the provincial government paid $261 million to almost 900 landowners it had to buy out in order to acquire property for the new highway.

Dr. Smit has interviewed about 25 property owners whose land was either bought or expropriated, and while many report feeling adequately compensated for their loss, many still described it as a very painful experience. One couple she described were in their 80s, in failing health and had been in their home for 55 years when they received a letter telling them they would need to move.

“They felt very, very vulnerable,” she said. “They were feeling very alone and uneducated about what their rights are.”

However Smit was quick to caution that she’s not suggesting massive amounts of money ought to be set aside for emotional suffering, but something more of a token gesture to acknowledge the loss.

“We’re not talking about doubling fair market value in order to compensate people here,” she said. “We’re talking more about something symbolic, something small to say Yes, we understand that this is your home that’s been lost and we’re going to give you something for your disturbance, but we’re also going to give you a little extra something to say we know this was hard on you, we know this was your home and we’re sorry for the loss.”

Smit is currently working on a journal article about her research, which she hopes to release by the end of the year. She also would like to publish a book on a number of facets of expropriation law in Canada when it’s been used for other infrastructural mega-projects.

She will appear this afternoon on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of UWindsor researchers and airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM.


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