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Environmental Groups Celebrate Protection of Lower Duffins Creek Wetland

Medial Release: Developer withdraws permit application for Provincially Significant Wetland

Duffins Creek © Philip Jessup

Sept. 17, 2021 – Toronto, Ont./ Traditional territories of several First Nations including the Williams Treaties First Nations, Huron-Wendat, the Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Chippewas, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation – In the wake of ongoing opposition including Indigenous and youth-led activism, Pickering Developments has withdrawn its previously-approved permit application to pave over the Provincially Significant Wetlands at Lower Duffins Creek. As a result, the wetlands are now safe from the lingering threat of development.

The permit was initially approved by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority under duress based on a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO).  

Development plans were met with widespread community opposition including a road blockade and a youth-led shoe strike at Pickering City Hall. In tandem with the community’s efforts, Ecojustice on behalf of Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature launched a judicial review to challenge the MZO for failure to comply with critical wetland protection policies.  

In March 2021, these environmental groups, supported by the Williams Treaties First Nations, filed an urgent stay motion on the immediate destruction of the wetland complex. This resulted in a legally-enforceable undertaking by the developer not to carry out destructive activity on the site until the MZO was reviewed in court.  

The Ontario government used every available tactic to undermine the litigation and the protection of the Duffins Creek Wetland including tabling both Bill 229 and Bill 257 to expand the Minister’s Zoning Order powers retroactively and force conservation authority approvals. 

However, the community prevailed. The Ontario government revoked the MZO on July 21, 2021, the permit was withdrawn and the lawsuit was subsequently discontinued. 

Laura Bowman, Ecojustice lawyer, said:

“Thanks to the dedication of environmental activists who launched the legal proceeding, the local community, the Williams Treaties First Nations, and media that covered the story, Duffins Creek Wetland is protected. This is an example of what can be achieved when the public comes together to hold their government accountable.

Although this is a significant victory for Duffins Creek Wetland, we are still concerned about the Ontario government’s increasing use of MZOs to push through development projects without proper environmental scrutiny or protection. Wetlands and species habitat around Ontario remain highly vulnerable.

“MZOs are meant to be extraordinary measures for provincial ministers. Historically, they were reserved for exceptional circumstances and rarely used. But in 2020 alone, the Ontario government issued more than 30 MZOs to fast-track routine development applications.  The Ontario government continues to expand the Minister’s MZO powers and to circumvent crucial public and First Nations consultation”

Phil Pothen, Ontario Environment Program Manager with Environmental Defence, said:

“Approving a warehouse on this vital wetland was ill-considered and dangerous, but it was not uniquely reckless.  It typifies the government’s new approach to land use planning in general.”

“From MZOs to the Conservation Authorities Act and the Golden Horseshoe’s Growth Plan, Ontario’s entire apparatus for controlling sprawl has been coopted to accelerate it and enrich well-connected land speculators.  The entire land use planning regime deserves the same scrutiny and criticism that citizens succeeded in bringing to Lower Duffins Creek.”

Anne Bell, Ontario Nature’s director of conservation and education, said: 

“Thankfully, the voice of the community has prevailed. If the government had chosen to respect its own policies to protect Provincially Significant Wetlands from the get-go this costly fight could have been avoided.”

“Going forward, we need to remember that MZOs deprive Ontarians of the opportunity to participate in critical land use decisions that may affect drinking water, farmland and green spaces in our communities. Generally, they’re a get-rich-quick pathway for developers and bad news for the rest of us.”

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