An order to remedy breaches of Quebec’s Environment Quality Act (EQA) has been issued against a local construction company by the province’s environment ministry.

The ministry accuses Top Layer Distribution Inc., owned by Jean-Sébastien Sears-Pépin, of carrying out backfilling work illegally and contaminating soils that are swept into the Lake of Two Mountains and the Ottawa River. The work in question took place at 1460 Rang Sainte-Philomène, which is the given address of the company according to its website.

“The company carried out backfilling work on the shoreline of the lake and the river without the authorization required under the Environment Quality Act (EQA),” said Frédéric Fournier, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment, the Fight Against Climate Change, Wildlife, and Parks.

“In addition, the presence of residual materials (concrete, bricks, asphalt, metal rods, etc.) has been noted on this site on several occasions,” he said. “In closing, the ministry noted the presence of contaminated soil deposits at higher concentrations than the original soils, which contravenes the regulations in force.”

According to Fournier, these bodies of water play important ecological functions. “The continuation of work and interventions, without prior ministerial authorization, would result in the destruction of more wetlands and bodies of water, thus creating significant damage to ecosystems and the environment,” he said.

Top Layer Distribution has been ordered to cease its work and return the shoreline to the state it was in before the work was carried out.

The order is just the latest intervention, with the situation on the ministry’s radar since 2020, carrying out an inspection that October following a complaint and being given a notice of non-compliance in December of that year, along with a $5,000 fine.

Another notice of non-compliance was sent in April 2021, and prior to this order, a pre-order notice was served on May 10, 2023, giving Top Layer Distribution 15 days to respond. It did not, according to the ministry.

The order is just the latest governmental intervention relating to the environment, as the situation surrounding the still unremediated toxic G&R Recycling site has lately been thrust back into mainstream media and given countrywide attention.

“They compare me, but we’re totally different,” said Sears-Pépin. “They’re a recycling plant, they’re supposed to be, or a dump. But that’s not what we were doing.” 

He claims the comparison with G&R Recycling is counterproductive to Kanesatake’s autonomy.

“If you look at the situation, it looks like the government is trying to put community members at fault on purpose and then be able to claim, see, they can’t manage the environment, so they can’t manage the Pines, they can’t manage in Oka, the mayor of Oka is right,” said Sears-Pépin.

He said the environmental impact of his project is incomparable to that of G&R Recycling and that he is being targeted because he did not seek permission from the government to do the work, insisting that the real story is a jurisdictional one.

He pointed out that the government had an agreement with G&R and said he, in contrast, should not be looked at by Quebec.

“It’s not their business to put injunctions against me or not. They should respect and recognize Kanesatake,” he said.

“If they win against me, it’s going to go against any other reserve in Quebec.”

He said the work – which he insists was for a client – was done to prevent flooding after extensive damage in the floods of 2017 and 2019. He has no plans to reverse the work, he said. 

“It wouldn’t be my place to do so,” he said.

The land in question is community land.

“You guys are looking at the situation the wrong way, I think,” he said. “You guys are looking at whether what I did is wrong or not wrong. Why is the government of Kanesatake not talking? Why is it not sending the injunctions?”

Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) chief Brant Etienne suggested the province’s jurisdiction in the community is limited, but that he understands why the province wants to be involved in environmental issues given that they tend to affect a wider area.

“It’s a whole messy jurisdiction issue. I don’t have the answers for what the correct way to deal with this is,” said Etienne. He suggested the severity and persistence of the environmental offence is a consideration in how much governmental involvement should be accepted.

He said there is no permit regime in place locally but that the administrative process could be worthwhile. “I know just amongst us, and the sentiment for a lot of people in the community, is we should be taking a much more active hand in the stewardship of our environment. This is what’s passed on to the next seven generations,” he said. 

However there are other challenges even if a regime were implemented. “It’s always a question of enforcement. Until we have enforcement in play, this is going to be a continuous problem.”

The government of Quebec insists it has the authority to issue the order under article 114 of the EQA. Sears-Pépin has 30 days to contest the order, but he said he instead wants to sue the government in civil court over the situation.

gmbankuti@gmail.com

By Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 11, 2023 at 08:08

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eastern Door   Kahnawake, Quebec
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