Judge temporarily halts road project near Montreal due to endangered frog

A wildlife corridor to help preserve the western chorus frog is seen under construction in Longueuil, Que. on Friday, October 15, 2021. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

A Quebec environmental group attempting to block a road construction project south of Montreal that it says would damage the habitat of an endangered frog said it’s pleased with a recent court order.

Genevieve Paul, executive director of the Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement, said the injunction Friday stopping work on the road for 10 days will prevent further destruction of habitat, as the group seeks a more permanent court order and pursues a separate lawsuit against the federal environment minister.

Paul said her organization and SNAP Quebec, another conservation group that is party to both lawsuits, believe that the federal environment minister is required to intervene under the Species at Risk Act.

“The Species at Risk Act obliges, in our analysis, the minister of the environment to make a recommendation that the federal government adopt an order to effectively protect the essential critical habitat of the frog and it can do so in situations, for instance, where it is considered that provincial protections are insufficient,” she said in an interview Monday.

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“This is one other case where, clearly, the provincial government has failed its duty to effectively protect this threatened species.”

Paul said the environmental groups hope the provincial court decision will put pressure on Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault to intervene and that he will act without the need for a Federal Court order.

In her ruling, Quebec Superior Court Justice Guylène Beaugé found that the environmental groups demonstrated that the threats to the western chorus frog are serious and that the City of Longueuil did not demonstrate that a delay in construction would result in significant harm.

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“In fact, the representatives of the city don’t argue there will be any harm arising from the suspension of work during the 10 days the injunction would last, while on the other hand, the essential habitat of the frog risks being irrevocably corrupted, endangering this species as a consequence,” Beauge wrote.

Beauge also found that the argument put forward by the environmental groups _ that it was unreasonable for Quebec’s environment minister to allow the project to move forward under provincial law _ may have merit.

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In a statement, the City of Longueuil said it is trying to balance the needs of citizens with the protection of the environment and that the delay could disrupt the timeline for building a passage designed to help the frogs cross beneath the new road.

The city said the project has received the necessary approvals and that the 300-metre road extension — as well as the frog passage — are almost completed but not yet open.

Guilbeault’s office directed a request for comment to departmental staff.

“If the minister is of the opinion that protection is required under the Act, then the minister will make that recommendation,” Samantha Bayard, a spokeswoman for Environment and Climate Change Canada, wrote in an email.

“The minister’s decision will be informed by the best available information, including scientific evidence that is gathered and provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada.”

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