Anti-Red Hill faction catches
By Bill Dunphy
Even as police were sweeping protesters out of the Red
Hill Valley yesterday morning, activists were opening
an eastern front in the battle.
Environmentalists marched right into Queen's Park in a
last-ditch effort to drag the province into the fray.
The activists called on newly minted (and by now perhaps
even newly briefed) Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky
to immediately order a review of the 18-year-old environmental
approvals for the controversial Red Hill Creek Expressway
-- in light of the city's convictions for environmental
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper -- a local branch of an international
environmental-law movement -- made the call at the Queen's
Park's media studio, hoping for maximum media exposure
and thereby maximize pressure on Dombrowsky. Alas for
them, the studio was nearly deserted and the only questions
asked came from your obedient servant, which suggests
activists may need a longer lever if they hope to pry
the Liberals off their support of the expressway. Dombrowsky
is feeling so unpressured by the Red Hill issue, the day
before she wasn't even sure where the valley was.
Still, the call for a review on legal -- not political
-- grounds does hang a hook out there for whatever anti-expressway
sympathizers there might be in the cabinet or caucus,
giving them something they -- or even the minister --
can latch on to.
The Waterkeepers cited a never-before used section of
the Environmental Assessment Act which allows the minister
to review previously approved projects in the face of
new information or circumstances. In this case the new
information was the three-year-old conviction of the city
for breaches of the Federal Fisheries Act and pending
charges under Ontario's Water Resources Act.
"Their actions show they can not be trusted as responsible
stewards of the valley," said Waterkeeper Mark Mattson.
"If criminal (sic) convictions aren't grounds for
a reassessment, I don't know what is."
Under questioning, Mattson admitted the convictions,
while breaches of law, were not violations of the Criminal
The convictions were for the city's repeated failure
to stop poisons leaching into the creek from the old Rennie
Street dump -- despite specific orders to do so. It was
fined $450,000 and ordered to embark on a multimillion-dollar
Not crimes per se, but the activists argue it's proof
the city can't be trusted to safeguard the valley during
and after construction.
"They've lost their credibility," Mattson said.
"They've lost that right (to manage a project in
the valley) by committing an illegal activity."
Mattson is well aware the Liberals support the expressway
-- indeed Premier Dalton McGuinty said as much this week
-- but he insists the decision here revolves around legal
policy, not politics.
And even though the 1985 assessment was reaffirmed, "declared"
in 1996, the convictions -- and a wealth of data on rare
plant and animal species and the health effects of air
pollution -- came after.
"She (Dombrowsky) is the only one that can step
into this and ensure the law is upheld. There's a very
important question here: Does illegal activity constitute
grounds for a reassessment?"
Whatever you think of the rhetoric, Mattson -- who was
accompanied to Queen's Park by Hamilton activist Don McLean
-- raises a novel point, and one that, surprisingly, seems
to have caught the new minister's ear.
Although Dombrowsky was unavailable (locked away in cabinet
committee meetings), ministry spokesman John Steele said
she'd make a decision in a matter of a week or so.
"We've agreed that we'll review it. I think it's
important that we allow our technical people to review
this new information and the minister will announce her
decision by the middle of the month."
Yesterday, as the press conference wound down, a technician
stepped in to say the TV was reporting that police had
moved into the valley, arresting at least two protesters.
A hush fell on the room and Mattson murmured to McLean
that he was sorry.
As it turned out, the sweep netted more than a dozen
activists, allowed the city crews to demolish the symbolic
longhouse and cleared the way for some serious clearing
of the way, i.e. with chainsaws, 'dozers and dynamite.
But, with the fuse burning in Queen's Park on the possibility
of a new environmental assessment of the whole expressway,
it's still not clear yet just who outflanked whom.