A Bridge Too Far: The NCC Breaks Laws in Gatineau Park
According to information obtained from Environment Canada, the National Capital Commission (NCC) violated the Species at Risk Act in a project involving demolition and reconstruction of Pellerin Bridge in Gatineau Park.
“A permit under the Species at Risk Act was required to carry out this work and a series of mitigation measures would have been required, including avoiding turtle nests in the work area,” wrote Marie Fortier, Compliance Promotion Officer at Environment Canada, in a January 7, 2021 email. “Based on my research … no permits were issued for the reconstruction of a bridge or for any other activity in this area… I recommend that this complaint be transferred to the Wildlife Enforcement Directorate for investigation” (see page 54 of the attached documents obtained through access to information, Environment Canada file number: A-2020-01570).
The bridge is located in the lac la Pêche sector of the park, and in the critical habitat of the Blanding’s turtle, a species that is on the verge of extinction and supposedly protected by federal and provincial laws. Demolition and rehabilitation work took place on this NCC property in the fall of 2020, over turtle nests and during the hatching period—without any valid municipal, regional, provincial or federal permits.
Under sections 32 and 33 of the Species at Risk Act, it is prohibited to harm, harass, capture or kill an endangered species, damage or destroy its residence. All work that may harm these species must be licensed under section 73 of this Act.
“The bridge is indeed located on federal lands in Gatineau Park, and there are numerous occurrences of Blanding’s turtles in this area,” Fortier writes in her email. “A bridge was already there, so this is a reconstruction […]. This bridge allows a citizen to access his private property at the end of Pellerin Road […]. The private property is located on the lake more than 600 metres from the bridge.”
Work on the bridge was carried out by a park resident and a contractor.
Wildlife enforcement officers inspected the site in late June 2021 in accordance with section 93(1) of the Species at Risk Act. Moreover section 96(3) of the Act requires release of a written report to the applicant “when the investigation is concluded,” setting out the information obtained “and stating the reasons for its conclusion and the action, if any, that the competent minister has taken or proposes to take.”
Environment Canada’s investigation took place ten months ago, but Minister Steven Guilbeault has been dragging his feet in releasing his report. Could that be because the “action” prescribed by law would be a huge embarrassment to the NCC and the Liberal government?
Section 97 of the Species at Risk Act stipulates heavy penalties for offenders—fines of up to $1,000,000 for corporations, and up to $250,000 and imprisonment to a maximum of five years, or both, for individuals.
Two other Environment Canada officials have also confirmed that a permit was required for work done on the bridge, according to the attached documents: Mr. Peter Bozic, Manager, Environmental Protection Branch (p. 96); Mr. Eric Bégin, Senior Environmental Review and Approvals Officer (p. 111).
But wait, there’s more: adding insult to injury, the NCC also violated section 12(1)(b) of the National Capital Act in this matter. Reconstruction of Pellerin Bridge should have been approved by the NCC Board.
The NCC confirmed that its board didn’t approve this project under the National Capital Act (NCA): “Federal Land Use and Design Approval was not required for this project, as it was not a new construction but rather fixing an existing structure” (see page 30 of the attached documents).
However, in Bonin v. Canada, the Federal Court held that section 12(1)(b) of the National Capital Act makes no distinction between minor and major works. For example, installation of signs at Meech Lake’s Blanchet Beach required board approval…
Inspection of Pellerin Bridge was carried out by Wildlife Enforcement Officer Émilie Roberge-Pelletier (email@example.com). The file number for her investigation is 9220-2021-03-25-6487.