Memoir in favour
of a new national park
Green Coalition calls for national wildlife area on federal lands adjacent to Technoparc North of Montréal-Trudeau International Airport
February 3, 2021
Preserve the last large unprotected marshland and riverine ecosystem on Montreal Island – 200 hectares of rare wildlife habitats – the size of Mount Royal Park
The Honourable Clifford Lincoln, former Environment Minister of Quebec, has written an open letter to the federal government on December 3, 2020, in support of the Green Coalition‘s call for the creation of a National Wildlife Area on the Transport Canada lands north of Montréal-Trudeau International Airport. These federal lands, currently leased to l’Aéroport de Montréal (ADM), are located in the Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent and the City of Dorval.
The Transport Canada lands, together with the adjacent Montreal Technoparc lands to the east, are rich in biodiversity – forests, open fields, brush, and invaluable marshes and ponds, vernal pools and streams. These irreplaceable natural spaces form a contiguous ecosystem that shelters an abundance of living species, notably the largest variety of bird species recorded on Montreal Island. Montreal’s environmental community is committed to the preservation in perpetuity of Montreal’s last, large, unprotected marshland and riverine ecosystem – 200 hectares of rare wildlife habitats – the size of Mount Royal Park.
Canada has already lost 90% of its urban wetlands and so has Montreal
This city faces a daunting reality – this city’s last, large, unprotected marshland ecosystem must and can be saved. We must remember that the Canadian federal government has re-committed itself to such conservation. In the September 23, 2020 Throne Speech, the Governor General spoke for the Prime Minister and for all citizens:
The pandemic has reminded Canadians how precious nature is to them. The government will work with municipalities as part of a new commitment to increase the number of parks in urban areas so that everyone has access to green space.
– Throne Speech p. 26
Green Coalition takes legal action
The Green Coalition profoundly believes in the conservation of natural spaces for all citizens, and that is why the Coalition, on September 20, 2016, turned to the legal system to request interim and permanent injunctions against Technoparc Montréal, the borough of Saint-Laurent and the Ministry of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the fight against Climate Change (MDDLCC) to halt preparatory construction work for the proposed Ecocampus Hubert Reeves in the Technoparc wetlands.
This original application for an interim injunction pleaded on November 30, 2016, was unsuccessful, and the court allowed the developers to proceed with infrastructure work. Nonetheless, the ongoing ecological harm made it imperative for the Green Coalition to continue with its application for a permanent injunction, asking the court to stop and reverse the environmental damage already done and conserve the area in perpetuity. We never stopped defending this unique wetland ecosystem.
But sadly, before the hearing on the permanent injunction was heard in February 2020, thousands of trees were felled; a dike and a road were built that drained important marshes, causing a marked decline in the bird population. The application for the permanent injunction was not heard until February 3 – 14, 2020 and we still await judgement by the Honourable Sylvain Lussier of the Superior Court of Quebec. In the more than 3 year interval between the filing and the hearing, the City of Montreal took over the management of the Technoparc and thus became the defendant along with the Ministry of the Environment and the fight against Climate Change (MELCC).
‘Judge Lussier, while he stressed the constraints of the law, showed that he was judicially interested in what Professor Titman told him, that: “We need to ensure that not even the smallest marsh is lost.’
In his February 2020 testimony, the renowned wildlife biologist Rodger Titman told the Superior Court that the construction of a road and a dike on the Ecocampus site made the environment unsuitable for the rare species that were there before. This is an especially concerning deterioration, he said, since these wetlands are part of a larger ecosystem and further destruction through the construction of buildings is planned.
Professor Titman, in his testimony to the tribunal, explained the scientific picture: “This habitat is being severely fragmented and there are plans to fragment it further.” Judge Lussier, while he stressed the constraints of the law, showed that he was judicially interested in what Professor Titman told him, that: “We need to ensure that not even the smallest marsh is lost.”
A golden opportunity for Canada to act
The Green Coalition believes that Professor Titman is absolutely right. As citizens, we must not allow a precious marshland and riverine ecosystem, such as the one north of Montreal’s Trudeau airport, to be destroyed. We believe that the federal government now wants to save this ecosystem. And we think that there is a golden opportunity for Canada to act.
First of all, there is no outright purchase of land required to create a wildlife reserve. The Canadian government, through Transport Canada, owns the lands in question and so they meet the ownership criterion for creation of a National Wildlife Area (NWA). In the words of Environment and Climate Change Canada, we believe that on the Transport Canada lands “the boundary determination will take into account the lands and waters essential to conserving the ecosystem functions of the area and the wildlife resource” (NWA Criteria).
‘As citizens, we must not allow a precious marshland and riverine ecosystem, such as the one north of Montreal’s Trudeau airport, to be destroyed. We believe that the federal government now wants to save this ecosystem.’
Secondly, the area does support both “migratory birds” and “species at risk” and has special value for “maintaining the genetic and ecological diversity” of Montreal Island and region. The area meets 4 out of the 5 criteria for a NWA listed by Environment and Climate Change Canada. Below is an itemization of the 5 criteria with those portions highlighted in bold that do apply to the Transport Canada Lands:
- The area supports at least 1% of the Canadian population of a species or subspecies of migratory bird or species at risk for any portion of the year where total populations are known.
This criterion includes areas on which species or subspecies depend to complete any part of their life cycle, such as nesting, feeding, migration and wintering areas.
- The area supports an appreciable assemblage of species or subspecies of migratory birds or species at risk, or an appreciable number of individuals of any one or more of these species or subspecies where total populations are not known or the assemblage represents a regionally significant area.
An “appreciable assemblage” of species or subspecies would be a grouping that, in relative terms, is generally accepted as being sufficient to warrant conservation action, such as waterfowl.
- The area has been identified as critical habitat for a listed migratory bird or other species at risk population, subspecies or species.
- The area is a rare or unusual wildlife habitat of a specific type in a biogeographic region, or has special value for maintaining the genetic and ecological diversity of a region because of the wide range, quality and uniqueness of its flora and fauna.
This criterion allows for habitats that always have been rare in a region, as well as habitats reduced to a remnant of their former extent…
- The area possesses a high potential for restoration or enhancement, now or in the future, such that wildlife populations could be increased or managed to meet national objectives.
This criterion may apply to an area with high potential for wildlife research, which is one of the functions for which a NWA may be created. Research may be in support of restoration or enhancement of an area, either to restore degraded habitats or enhance good habitats, for the benefit of wildlife.
Thirdly, the creation of a National Wildlife Area would allow the federal government to carry out its various conservation commitments, both recent and of long standing. An added advantage will be the proximity of a new station for Montreal’s Réseau express métropolitain (REM) being built at the Technoparc wetlands, providing access to Montrealers and visitors alike to this exceptional site. Imagine – REM travellers to Montréal-Trudeau International Airport will be moments away from a 200-hectare national nature reserve, an ecological feature of global distinction!
United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity
There is a further compelling reason to create a National Wildlife Area in Montreal right now. In 2010, Canada was one of the signatories of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets during the meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity where participating governments signed the accords. The first ten-year deadline for that treaty commitment has now come to an end, and since Montreal is the physical home and base of the UN Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, it is worthwhile remembering this history.
In 1992, Canada was the first of the World’s industrial nations, and major economies, to sign the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Consequently, Canada was, and is, bound by its terms and objectives including the Aichi Targets agreed to in October 2010 at the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10).
According to the official document Canada’s Conserved Areas (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2020), by December 31, 2019, Canada had reached “12.1% of its terrestrial area (land and freshwater) conserved, including 11.4% in protected areas and 13.8% of its marine territory conserved, including 8.9% in protected areas.”
‘In its own literature, Montreal acknowledges its historic shortfall compared to other major Canadian cities and aspires to narrow the gap in hectares of natural space conserved per capita.’
Target 11 had mandated 17% in terrestrial and 10% in marine conservation while target 15 had called for 15% in restoration of degraded ecosystems. Quebec was recorded as having conserved 10.7% of its territory by the end of 2019. On December 17, 2020, it announced that, in the interim, it had reached the 17% benchmark. Still, it had taken nine years to fall short and a hasty 12 months to catch up. Both Canada and Quebec heavily weighted their conservation measures towards remote areas, particularly the North. Meanwhile, important geographical, ecological and political regions in the south of Canada and Quebec go unrepresented in its measures. Citizens expect to see the job done in all regions and on all scales.
Montreal, for its part, must also abide by the Aichi Targets in spite of the paucity of space within which to achieve them. It must do its absolute best with what space it has available. It is, after all, the home base of the UN Secretariat on the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is also duty-bound to honour the promise given by the Aichi/Nagoya Declaration on Local Authorities and Biodiversity:
“We, Mayors, Governors and other high‐level officials meeting in Nagoya, Aichi, Japan, from October 24‐26, at the occasion of the City Biodiversity Summit 2010 during the International Year of Biodiversity:
recognize that rapid urbanization is one of the drivers of global biodiversity loss, and local authorities have a critical role to play in implementing the objectives of the CBD to prevent the continuation of this loss, and we commit to pursuing this goal;
appeal to all local governments of the world and their citizens, as well as the CBD Parties and the international community, to support us in this endeavour. This Declaration outlines our reasons, our actions, and our intentions.”
– Nagoya Declaration, 2010
In its own literature, Montreal acknowledges its historic shortfall compared to other major Canadian cities and aspires to narrow the gap in hectares of natural space conserved per capita. Against a median 473 hectares/100,000 inhabitants for cities elsewhere in Canada, it admits to having provided less than half, 230 hectares, for the benefit of Montrealers. Canada’s most iconic metropolis deserves much better. And it will require the help of its superior levels of government, that of Canada, as well as Quebec. Montreal, it should be stressed, has professed its willingness to spend to raise its conserved land to a level commensurate with its urban peers. It also is coming to understand, belatedly, the seriousness of the stakes involved.
As our city now strives to reach its 10% target in compliance with the Aichi Declaration’s intent, it needs a reciprocal commitment from its federal partner. All levels of government, serving Canada, Quebec, and Montreal, will be bound after the next round of talks expected in Kunming, China, May 17-30, 2021 to an expected target of 30%, to be reached by 2030. This must be reflected in what is done now to bring Montreal up to par.
It is within this legal and social context that the Green Coalition believes that the Transport Canada land north of Trudeau Airport possesses exactly the features stressed in the international covenants. Canada has pledged to preserve biodiversity and has done so repeatedly. The Throne Speech of this past September is a re-iteration of our country’s commitment. The time has now come to get it done, here, on the federal land.
Campaign in the public arena
The Green Coalition has been at court for four years to defend the Technoparc wetlands. And now we have enlarged our campaign by bringing it squarely into the public arena.
Open Letter – Green Coalition
On November 5, 2020, the Green Coalition addressed its open letter to the Honourable Ministers Garneau, Wilkinson and Guilbeault: “A Call for the creation of a new wildlife reserve,” requesting “an emergency virtual meeting regarding the National Wildlife Area on federal lands adjacent to the Technoparc, north of Montréal-Trudeau International Airport.”
In our letter we made a strong argument for this act of conservation:
Montreal’s environmental community has long sought to create a major protected area in perpetuity – in the heart of the Island of Montreal – a protected area of 200 hectares that would include the Technoparc wetlands and adjacent federal lands.
And we made clear what is at stake:
At stake: The last unprotected marshland and riverine ecosystem on the island of Montreal must remain intact
This unique ecosystem – the wetlands of the Technoparc and adjacent federal lands – is made up of varied contiguous natural areas rarely found in such a highly industrialized sector. Its trophic network, or food chain, is complex and complete, ensuring the long-term viability of the site. From microorganisms to the most evolved species such as mammals and birds, this ecosystem is very healthy and resilient.
An important aquifer, the “Des Sources” waters, provides water to the wetlands of Technoparc and the federal lands. The aquifer is also the source of three creeks: Ruisseau Bertrand runs north to Rivière des prairies; Ruisseau Denis and Ruisseau Bouchard flow south to Lac Saint-Louis. So, the last unprotected marshland and riverine ecosystem, the size of Mount Royal Park, in the centre of the Island, is interconnected from Rivière des prairies to Lac Saint-Louis – that is – interconnected from river to river across the Island.
We concluded our appeal with these words:
We urge you to act now to create a National Wildlife Area and conserve the federally-owned portion of Montreal’s last remaining large wetland ecosystem by fulfilling the commitments in the Speech from the Throne: “…We will do this while protecting a quarter of the country’s land and oceans in five years. To fight climate change, we will also turn to natural solutions, such as planting 2 billion trees. ”
Your boldness and leadership in creating a new National Wildlife Area will inspire and convince our municipal elected officials to ensure that the Technoparc’s natural environments are protected from encroachment in perpetuity and restored.
Open Letter – Clifford Lincoln
Then, on December 3, 2020 the former Quebec Environment Minister, the Honourable Clifford Lincoln, sent a letter to the same three federal ministers arguing for the National Wildlife Area north of the Montreal airport.
Clifford Lincoln’s letter was signed by 21 other prominent “friends of the environment and colleagues.” Their names and positions make for a striking list of people with enormous knowledge of our local environment, and of the global challenges we face:
Elizabeth May, O.C., Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, Parliamentary Leader of the Green Party of Canada
Georges Bourelle, Mayor of the City of Beaconsfield, Member of the Agglomeration Council of Montreal
Julie Brisebois, Mayor of Senneville, Member of the Agglomeration Council of Montreal
Heidi Ektvedt, Mayor of the City of of Baie-D’Urfé
Paola Hawa, Mayor of the City of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Member of the Agglomeration Council of Montreal
Normand Marinacci, LL.L., Borough Mayor of L’Île-Bizard-Sainte-Geneviève
Luc Ferrandez, former head of large parks and Mayor of Plateau-Mont-Royal, columnist for 98.5
Peter B. Yeomans, former Mayor of the City of Dorval and Member of the Executive Committee, City of Montreal
Ryan Young, Councillor, Town of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue
Margo Heron, Councillor, City of Dorval
Paul Trudeau, Councillor, City of Dorval
Daniel Green, Co-Chair, Société pour vaincre la pollution, former Deputy Leader, Green Party of Canada
Alex Tyrell, Leader of the Green Party of Quebec
Alain Branchaud, Executive Director, Société pour la nature et les parcs (SNAP Quebec)
Joël Coutu, on behalf of the 2,600 members of the TechnoparcOiseaux Group
Sophie Paradis, Quebec Chief Conservation Officer, World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada)
Georges R. Dupras, Founder and Director of the Animal Alliance of Canada – Bear Protection.
Rob Laidlaw, Certified Biologist, Royal Institute of Biology, Author and CEO of Zoocheck Canada
Barry Kent MacKay, Artist and Naturalist, Director of Canadian and Special Programs at Born Free USA
Sarah Teigeiro, M.Eng., Ph.D. candidate at Polytechnique Montreal, on behalf of her family and fellow students
Sylvia Oljemark, Co-founder, Green Coalition – more than sixty citizen groups dedicated to the protection of the environment.
Montreal’s environmental community is excited by the promise held out by the September 2020 Throne Speech
Montreal, with the lowest tally of natural space conserved per capita among Canadian cities, needs the promised help of the federal government to increase its urban parks. And, the observation “The pandemic has reminded Canadians how precious nature is to them” has proved prophetic. As the grip of the pandemic continues, Montrealers are crowding into the city’s limited urban parklands to enjoy nature…
Now the plight of the city’s last large unprotected marshland ecosystem and its wildlife has captured the support of citizens in Montreal and beyond. There is no better way for the federal government to fulfil the commitment of the Throne Speech in Quebec than to create the National Wildlife Area to conserve the federally-owned portion of Montreal’s last large wetland ecosystem and then to ensure the protection of the adjacent Technoparc wetlands in turn.
‘… the observation ‘The pandemic has reminded Canadians how precious nature is to them’ has proved prophetic. As the grip of the pandemic continues, Montrealers are crowding into the city’s limited urban parklands to enjoy nature…’
Let’s remember that it was here – in this city – that half a million people, mostly young people, marched for climate change action with Greta Thunberg through the streets of Montreal on September 27, 2019.
The movement now in Montreal and Quebec to create a National Wildlife Area north of Montréal-Trudeau International Airport is a strong and growing civic mobilization. The momentum to save the wetlands and their diverse habitats is growing – by the day.
On January 2, 2021, the Montreal Gazette published a key article on the drive to create a new National Wildlife Area. This newspaper report makes it abundantly clear that the people have the will to act, a determination that must be met by the political will of politicians.
The Green Coalition and many thousands of supporters across the Greater Montreal Region stand together now, in an upswell of popular opinion – Create The National Wildlife Area!
Feature image: Aerial view of the Technoparc taken in October 2017, courtesy of Technoparc Montréal
The Green Coalition is a non-profit association of groups and individuals with a mandate to promote the conservation, protection and restoration of the environment and the wise use of green and blue spaces. Founded in 1988.