What began as a legal attempt to save one particular wetland has turned into a call to investigate all Certificates of Authorization issued by the Quebec Ministry of Environment (MEQ). No judgment has been handed down yet, but environmentalists of the Green Coalition find the testimony scandalous.
In a court case heard this month, Valerie Planteâ€™s environmentally-friendly administration was named as a co-defendant. Planteâ€™s defense of construction of a new building in the largest wetland on Montreal Island is at issue. The Green Coalition asked for an injunction to stop the construction. The MEQ, which authorized the construction, was named as a co-defendant.
In a stunning development, MEQ has admitted in open court that it has never refused a developerâ€™s request for a Certificate of Authorization, Campbell Stuart, one of the lawyers on the case for the Green Coalition, wrote to The Times.
The Ministryâ€™s admission reveals a terrible scandal at the heart of our environmental protection bureaucracy. We now know that it works for developers, not for the environment and not for the public, continues Stuart.
The Green Coalition demands an immediate public investigation
The Green Coalition demands an immediate public investigation into the MEQâ€™s procedures for issuing Certificates of Authorization, including a review of the validity of all Certificates already issued and an immediate moratorium on the issuance of new Certificates until the inquiry is finished and the procedures are corrected.
Stuart specifies that the Green Coalitionâ€™s injunction proceedings are an attempt to stop destruction of the Technoparc wetlands just north of Trudeau Airport. He notes that environmental studies done by Technoparc include bird counts conducted in the middle of winter when most species have flown south.
Those studiesâ€”on which work authorizations were basedâ€“dismissed the area as being of little environmental importance. But, since 2016, birdwatchers in Technoparc area and adjacent federal lands just north of Trudeau Airport have counted 189 species of birds there according to the eBird website. This includes endangered species–such as Least Bitterns and Wood Thrushes–nesting on site. The area is now recognized as one of the top bird-watching spots in Quebec.
A recent article in the Metro newspaper on this same topic cites GeneviÃ¨ve Jutras, working at Mayor Planteâ€™s office, as saying Montreal has proven its support of wetland protection by actions. The Plante administration is intent on creating a 3000 hectare park on Montrealâ€™s West Island, but this does not include the Technoparc area on the border of Dorval and St-Laurent.
Similar complaints about the Quebec Environment Ministry rubber stamping wetland destruction were heard in 2015 when environmentalist Tommy Montpetit told Radio Canada that: the (MEQ) has become a machine to authorize work (to destroy wetlands). At that time, on average, two such wetlands were destroyed every week in the Greater Montreal area. Most of these wetlands were less than 5 hectares in area.
Wetlands can clean the water that flows through them, mitigate large flood events, recharge underground aquifers and sequester carbon. Wetlands are also the most biologically diverse of all terrestrial ecosystems, providing lucrative destinations for ecotourism according to websites like Conservation.org
In 2016, construction work began in the Technoparc area, including access roads, cutting thousands of trees and draining marshes. This has already caused a serious decline in numbers of birds and other species writes Stuart.
Feature image: Campbell Stuart Photo: John Symon