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Environmental groups secure halt to impending destruction of Lower Duffins Creek Wetland

Ontario government must halt legal attacks on planning laws and repeal MZO

Lower Duffins Creek Provincially Significant Wetlands © Philip Jessup

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 — Pickering Developments has committed to not destroy the Provincially Significant Wetlands and other natural features at Lower Duffins Creek in Pickering, Ontario. The commitment will remain in place until the Divisional Court hearing of the groups’ full Judicial Review application regarding the legality of the proposed development.

Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature, represented by Ecojustice agreed to an adjournment of their Court application after negotiating a legally enforceable undertaking  to prohibit any destructive activity of the provincially significant wetland and other natural heritage features. Later this morning the parties will ask the Ontario Divisional Court to review the commitment by Pickering Developments and make it enforceable through a court order. The groups reserved the right to return to Court immediately if any terms of the commitment by Pickering Developments are violated.

The groups’ move to seek a Court-ordered stop to the planned destruction became necessary after Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) was legally forced by the Provincial Government to issue a permit to begin destruction of the wetlands. This permit was issued with conditions on March 12th.

This turn of events comes on the heels of the abandonment of this site as a candidate location for a warehousing facility by Amazon Canada, a stated willingness by Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to revoke or amend the MZO that purports to authorize destruction of the wetland, and an indication by the City of Pickering that they wish to reflect on the issue.

To protect the wetland, the City of Pickering must now request the repeal of the MZO that purports to authorise destruction of the wetland and Minister Clark must keep his commitment to respect Pickering’s wishes.

Further, to secure the permanent protection of this wetland, and many other sensitive ecological sites and farmland across Ontario, the provincial government must remove Schedule 3 from Bill 257, now before the Legislature. Schedule 3 proposes to allow the Minister to use MZOs to override all provisions of the Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act, effectively eliminating all natural heritage protection under Ontario’s municipal planning rules whenever an MZO is used.

Laura Bowman, Ecojustice lawyer said:

“We are pleased to get the resolution our clients wanted without the need to argue the motion.  The wetlands will be protected by the undertaking to the Court until the decision in our clients Judicial Review. Our clients are continuing the Judicial Review to quash the MZO in the long-term.”

“The Ontario government has expressed a willingness to consult on a possible amendment to the MZO to protect the wetland and we expect that this consultation will include the public and First Nations so that a final resolution of this matter protecting the wetland from destruction can be achieved.”

Tim Gray, executive director, Environmental Defence said:

“We are glad to see the developer agree to a pause in their rush to destroy this key wetland. This victory shows the power of community members mobilizing to protect a place they value. However, the fight is not over until the Minister’s Zoning order is repealed and our planning laws and rules are respected.”

“Lower Duffins Creek wetland’s destruction would be a disaster on its own but its loss would also signal that all wetlands, forests, and river valleys are beyond the protection of the law and at risk from rapacious developers.”

Caroline Schultz, executive director, Ontario Nature said: 

“There’s an insidious and accelerating pattern of undercutting environmental rules to facilitate reckless development projects in Ontario. Bill 257, which allows the government to ride roughshod over natural heritage protections, is the latest example. This war against nature has to stop.”

“As we grapple with the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, it’s unconscionable to pave over any of the Duffins Creek Wetland Complex. It would be contrary to the will of community and the long-term interest of Ontarians, as the public outcry against the  destruction of the Duffins Creek wetland has amply demonstrated.”

Background:

TRCA issued a permit to Pickering Developments to undertake work on the property containing the wetland.  This permit ultimately would have allowed the developers to destroy a protected, rare coastal Great Lakes wetland. The wetland is instrumental for water filtration and flood mitigation, and is a critical refuge for wildlife.

Last year, the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing issued a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) to allow the construction of a warehouse and distribution facility on the wetlands. Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature, represented by Ecojustice, filed a judicial review against the Ontario government for this unlawful use of an MZO.

The Ontario government has now tabled the Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act (Bill 257) in an attempt to give retroactive cover to their illegal actions.

On March 5, the environmental groups filed an urgent motion to prevent the TRCA from allowing the developer to destroy this Provincially Significant Wetland.

The development project faces strong and growing opposition from local communities and First Nations who value its ecological and cultural benefits, from the TRCA’s Board of Directors and from citizens across Ontario and beyond.

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About:

Ecojustice uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, public interest lawsuits and advocacy lead to precedent-setting court decisions and law and policy that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.

Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.

Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters, and more than 150 member groups across Ontario.