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Great Lakes Article:

Anti-Red Hill faction catches minister's ear
By Bill Dunphy
Hamilton Spectator

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 "crimes."

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 Code.

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 cleanup.

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.

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