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'Historic victory': Judge orders Quebec to pay taxi drivers $143 million for abolishing permits

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A Superior Court judge has ordered the Quebec government to pay taxi drivers $143 million in compensation for its decision to abolish their permits nearly five years ago.

According to the decision rendered on Friday, the judge ruled that the province illegally expropriated taxi licences without fair compensation as it made way for Uber to enter the market.

With interest, the compensation ordered by Justice Silvana Conte will reach approximately $219 million.

"It's a historic victory but we were asking for more [money]," said Bruce W. Johnston, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs who launched a class-action lawsuit in 2016.

The Montreal-based lawyer was hoping for $308 million plus interest, but he nevertheless called Friday's ruling a "very, very important victory."

"We're examining the judgment to see if there are grounds for appeal or not but it remains that it will be a very significant difference in the lives of thousands of taxi permit holders who worked their whole lives to accumulate the capital asset that they were deprived of by the decision of the government," he said in an interview.

Geneviève Tremblay, a spokesperson for Quebec's transport minister, said her office will review the ruling before commenting on it.

Compensation is being granted to all taxi drivers who held a licence in Quebec for the first time prior to Oct. 28, 2013, the date when Uber's fleet of drivers hit the streets in the province.

When Quebec abolished the permit system in October 2019, it essentially rendered existing permits worthless when the going rate for some was up to $200,000. At the time, the government gave holders a total of $800 million in compensation, but Johnston has argued in court that that figure was well below the market value of the permits before Uber's arrival, which he estimated at around $1.2 billion.

With the judgment, each driver could expect to receive around $50,000 or $60,000.

Both sides have 30 days to decide whether or not they want to appeal the decision.

With files from CTV Montreal's Matt Grillo and The Canadian Press

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