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Kahnawake is taking Canada to court over major construction project threatening turtle habitat


An Indigenous community near Montreal is challenging Canada's authorization of a major construction project that may threaten fish and turtle habitats.

The Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community of Kahnawake's council on Montreal's South Shore filed an application for judicial review on Thursday with two government ministries after they authorized the Ile-aux-Tourtes Bridge reconstruction project "without first adequately consulting and accommodating Kahnawà:ke regarding impacts from the construction," the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) said in a news release.

The MCK said it has been consulting with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) about the project since January 2022 and "is particularly opposed to fish habitat compensation projects that will, in turn, destroy the nesting sites of the map turtle."

The DFO told CTV News that it is aware of the MCK news release and that it is coordinating the federal Indigenous consultations for the bridge project in collaboration with Transport Canada. It added that it conducted consultations with the MCK and the Anishinabeg community of Kitigan Zibi.

The department would not comment further as there is ongoing litigation.

The northern map turtle is considered a species of "special concern" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). A species of special concern is one that may become threatened or endangered.

The COSEWIC says the map turtle inhabits rivers and lakeshores, and a major threat to the species is "human interference through shoreline development and recreational boat use, which may prevent the turtle from using suitable areas of habitat along major waterways."

Kahnawake is involved due to its "people's recognized fishing rights in the project area and on our environmental stewardship rights and responsibilities," the MCK release read.

The MCK also criticized Quebec in the news release, though the legal action is aimed at the federal government only.

"The federal government failed to address Quebec's breaches and decided to authorize the projects despite the MCK's opposition," the release reads.

Quebec's environmental consultation on the bridge in January 2020 found concerns that the area is home to wildlife habitats including that it is a breeding ground for the map turtle.

In addition, by locating the new bridge north of the existing bridge, the report said, caused concern about de-icing salts contaminating the Lake of Two Mountains.

The Mohawk council added that it believed Canada would prioritize protecting the turtle nesting grounds, but it found out in November 2023 that the government authorized the bridge project, which, the MCK said, would destroy map turtle nesting grounds.

The MCK said the project could be moved so as not to impact the turtles.

"While there is no question about the need for this project, we have to keep in mind the next seven generations," said MCK chief Cody Diabo. "What we do now will have impacts beyond our lifetimes, so we need to prioritize our earth and our environment to the best of our abilities." 

In a statement, a spokesperson for Transport Canada said the agency is "aware of a potential application for judicial review filed at the Federal Court of Canada by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke regarding the Quebec Ministry of Transportation and Sustainable Mobility’s Île-aux-Tourtes Bridge Reconstruction Project. The Attorney General of Canada will review the application for judicial review once it is received." Top Stories

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