Teaming up to protect
the Technoparc Wetlands

Teleconference to halt the “horrible destruction” of Quebec’s Natural Environment

By Patrick Barnard

On June 6, 2020, a Montreal teleconference took place that broke new ground for the province of Quebec and its environmental movement. The well-known environmentalist from the Legacy Fund for the Environment, Alison Hackney, guided the discussion and fielded questions from participants for presenters to answer.

For the first time, groups committed to the natural environment, and people devoted to the wellbeing of birds, met to talk about what are known as Certificates of Authorization (CAs).

CAs issued by the Quebec Ministry of the Environment are the crucial permits used by promoters to build on natural areas, especially wetlands, and in the process developers over the last generation have, unfortunately, and blindly, destroyed these natural spaces.

The June 6 conference heard from lawyers and naturalists who showed that for the last decades the Ministry has actually helped ruin the natural spaces of Quebec by treating CAs as automatic permits to build and destroy.

The Conservation Director of Ciel et Terre, Tommy Montpetit, spoke for all the participants when he said that “CAs are given 100% of the time” with complete indifference to environmental considerations. And the Ministry of the Environment, he commented, is actually “a machine to grant Certificates of Authorization.”

The June 6 conference heard from lawyers and naturalists who showed that for the last decades the Ministry has actually helped ruin the natural spaces of Quebec by treating CAs as automatic permits to build and destroy.

Tragically, the Ministry’s practise of rubber-stamping approval is one of the main reasons why Montreal has lost 90% of its urban wetlands in the last 30 years.

The virtual conference, filmed by Web-TV, was jointly sponsored by the non-partisan Green Coalition and the ornithological group Technoparc Oiseaux, both of whom are now before Quebec’s Superior Court, seeking an injunction to prevent the destruction of a set of precious marshes in the Technoparc area of Ville Saint-Laurent just north of Montreal’s airport.

In the last years, more than 175 species of birds, many of them rare and migratory, have been visiting these largely unknown wetlands. The ornithologist Joel Coutu and Technoparc Oiseaux have led a whole series of walks in the Technoparc marshes allowing many birdwatchers to observe the birds that have been drawn to this precise area, and it has become the #1 birding site on Montreal Island.

Bernaches / Canada Geese -

Canada goose family with golden nuggets – Image: Ilana Block

Coutu opened the teleconference with an explanation of how important the Technoparc marshes are, and the photos he used in his PowerPoint were breathtaking. Why would the City of Montreal drain even a part of these precious wetlands at a time when North America has lost more than one-quarter of its total bird population? Because Montreal is the Canadian champion of the urban sprawl that has moved across Montreal Island replacing natural spaces with single-family dwellings until practically no such natural areas are left. That has been the destructive pattern of development that politicians have thrived on and citizens have meekly accepted.

At the Montreal teleconference, lawyers Campbell Stuart and Michaël Tremblay, of the firm Colby Monet, revealed that, in the testimony before the Superior Court, a Ministry of the Environment official indicated under oath that the standard practice at the Ministry is almost never to refuse a developer’s application for a Certificate of Authorisation. The Teleconference drew back the curtain on this sordid story and exposed it in public view.

‘Tragically, the Ministry’s practise of rubber-stamping approval is one of the main reasons why Montreal has lost 90% of its urban wetlands in the last 30 years.’

David Fletcher, Vice-President of the Green Coalition, referred his listeners to the International Panel on Biodiversity held in May 2019 and its chilling estimates of global land surface altered, and wetlands lost. “We are living in the Sixth Great Age of Extinction,” Fletcher said, and he reminded participants of the 1987 Bruntland Commission on Sustainability. The world was warned then about the necessity for “harmonious development” and the primordial importance of “the capacity for self-regulation.”

Canada, Quebec and Montreal have all failed the environment when it comes to the self-regulation needed from politicians and citizens alike if we are to truly safeguard nature as we have known it.

Tommy Montpetit of Ciel et Terre, in particular, talked about Quebec’s environmental legislation, especially the provincial Law on the Quality of the Environment and its objective to “prevent the degradation of the environment by obliging citizens, developers and others to request an authorization before proceeding with any action.”

Despite all its laws, however, Montpetit said that Quebec has lost “90% to 100% of its wetlands,” an act of “horrible destruction.”

culvert draining the Technoparc Wetlands -

Draining the Technoparc Wetlands – Image: Patrick Barnard

Montpetit warned everyone, as well, about the great danger posed by the new omnibus bill before the Quebec National Assembly, Bill #61.

This legislation, pushed forward by Premier François Legault, will use the excuse of the COVID-19 crisis to fast-track 202 infrastructure projects. “The protection of the environment does not exist anymore with this new law,” Montpetit said. It gives the state “total power of expropriation,” allows for the re-drawing of limits to nature parks for the purpose of development, eliminates all municipal referendums sought by citizens, allows for the addition of more projects at any time, and Montpetit added, “the government and its allies have given themselves complete judicial impunity.”

‘Montpetit warned everyone, as well, about the great danger posed by the new omnibus bill before the Quebec National Assembly, Bill #61.’

While financial compensation for environmental loss is envisaged in the law, “the monetization of the environment is a disastrous mistake,” Montpetit commented.

“You would think we are living in a totalitarian state,” Montpetit warned. “We only have a few days to stop this legislation from being passed in Quebec City,” he said, asking everyone to mobilize politically.

The conference ended with three demands:

  1. The City of Montreal must immediately abandon all construction on Technoparc’s ecologically sensitive lands and restore and rehydrate the wetlands already damaged.
  2. The Government of Quebec must conduct a public inquiry into the issuance of Certificates of Authorization to developers.
  3. The Government of Quebec must abandon its attacks on environmental protection in the province. It must abandon the provisions of Projet de loi #61 designed to “relaunch” the economy which are explicitly designed to weaken environmental protections even further. Our government must enact and enforce legislation to strengthen environmental protection, not gut it.

As the teleconference ended, delegates reaffirmed their determination to take this fight for the environment in Montreal and Quebec into the political arena. They felt they had a moral duty to act and to make the information they had examined available to the wider public – as soon as possible.

Feature image: Patrick Barnard

Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre – WestmountMag.caRead other articles about the Technoparc Wetlands
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Patrick Barnard -

Patrick Barnard is a board member of the Green Coalition, a non-partisan environmental group in Montreal. He is also the editor of the video blog The Pimento report/Le Piment and a freelance journalist. He has worked in the past for CBC Radio, Radio Netherlands, and Dawson College where he taught English Literature. He is also one of 20 environmentalists and transit experts who signed an open letter in Montreal asking an end to the REM.

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There are 7 comments

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  1. Al Hayek

    I was flabbergasted about what I read in the Montreal Gazette a week ago Saturday, concerning Bill 61, the Bill to fast track infrastructure projects:

    “A clause in the bill (Bill 61) , nevertheless, does offer a company the possibility of paying financial compensation to the ministry of the environment for the authorization of activities in the habitat of a threatened or vulnerable plant species or wildlife. Dubé noted such arrangements are already permitted.”

    What this means very simply is that under Legault’s CAQ, our threatened and vulnerable plant and animal species are up for sale.

  2. Georges R. Dupras

    No one should be astonished about the Government of Québec using Covid-19 to fast track projects such as the one proposed for the technoparc. The only surprise is that both Valérie Plante of Montréal and Alan DeSousa of Saint-Laurent support it. Our record for protecting wetlands in this province is reprehensible. It will take more than the creation of green spaces such as the one suggested for Saint-Laurent to offset the sell-off of the technoparc. This project is a prime example of a mindset that clealry doesn’t understand that you cannot put an economic value on the natural environment. Montrealer’s, infact all Canadians, must decide which has more value, a barrel of oil (approximately 32$), or a barrel of fresh clean drinking water – fresh air or a truckload of facial masks?

  3. Anne Streeter

    Saving this precious land is a no brainer to me! It is not a parking lot! It is full of life! Shame on the three levels of government and the developers who would run roughshod over this last vestige of valuable living land – land surrounded by endless cement. Nothing is sacred to these people! Their greed knows no boundaries. We must say no to this mindless project!

  4. Georges R. Dupras

    On reviewing my notes from the meeting of June the 6th, and if I understood this correctly, 75% of the land is owned by Transport Canada, while the remaing 25% is privately owned. That said, I’m not sure Alan DeSousa or Valérie Plante would have had much influence on whether or not the technoparc could be developped. Though I have no expertise in this area, I would think that since the area (most if not all) is within the boundaries of Saint-Laurent, that the Municipal council would have some say. Also, the fact that Mayor Plante refused to meet with representatives of the Green Coation seems very much out of character for her.

  5. Sinikka Crosland

    “They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot” could be appropriate words (from a decades-old song) to describe yet another thoughtless, insensitive onslaught against the environment by those who are too blind to see the writing on the wall. When the green spaces are gone and concrete has obliterated the amazing living beings who used to call this area home – what then? It’s high time to stop committing crimes against Nature. It’s time to be intelligent and forward-thinking and include Nature’s requirements in everything we do.

  6. Louise Slattery

    Such an important issue. Even wetlands in presumably green areas off island have been developed or likely will be. Hard to fight as it seems that development often takes precedence over wildlife habitat. This must change. The preservation of natural habitat and the wildlife that depend on it must be prioritized over real estate development and infrastructure projects. The issuance of Certificates of Authorization have misled the public who assume that they protect natural spaces when in fact the opposite is true.

  7. Doris Potter

    I am grateful to read of the hard work that the Green Coalition, Ciel et Terre, and Technoparc Oiseaux have done in trying to preserve the extraordinary wetland area known as the Technoparc area of Ville Saint-Laurent. The comments on this article express the appreciation people have for this area and its wildlife.

    As someone who spends every spare moment photographing nature, I feel a desperation that those in power will not save this local treasure trove. I subscribe to rare bird alerts and almost every week there are amazing sightings attributed to the Technoparc. This is significant!

    Our lives are enriched by the biodiversity in our midst. We must protect our urban wildlife for their sake and for our own.

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