Pickering’s ill-fated Duffins Creek Wetlands development story ends as application withdrawn and lawsuit dropped

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Published September 17, 2021 at 3:04 pm

The development application to pave over a portion of a provincially-significant wetland at Lower Duffins Creek in Pickering has officially been withdrawn, the final step in ensuring its protection from future development.

“This means there is no lingering threats of development in the area,” said Zoryana Cherwick, a communications specialist with Ecojustice, one of the groups fighting the development.

Amazon had proposed building a warehouse on the site and were being helped by a controversial Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) issued by the Province to speed the process along.

But after vocal opposition from several environmental groups, as well as indigenous and youth-led activists, the company found another site further south (at the former Pickering Flea Market building) for its project.

Development plans were met with widespread community opposition when they were first revealed, including a road blockade and a youth-led shoe strike at Pickering City Hall. Ecojustice, in tandem with Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature, then launched a judicial review to challenge the MZO for failure to comply with critical wetland protection policies.

Last March the environmental groups, supported by the Williams Treaties First Nations, filed an urgent stay motion on the project, which resulted in a legally enforceable undertaking by the developer not to carry out “destructive activity” on the site until the MZO was reviewed in court.

That led to Amazon pulling out of the project but, according to Ecojustice, the provincial government tried to “undermine” the litigation by tabling two bills in the legislature to expand the MZO powers retroactively and force conservation authority approvals.

The Province finally bowed to the opposition and revoked the MZO on July 21.

Now, with the development officially withdrawn, the lawsuit has been dropped as well.

Ecojustice lawyer Laura Bowman thanked the environmental groups, First Nations people and the media for bringing the story to a close.

“This is an example of what can be achieved when the public comes together to hold their government accountable,” she said. “Although this is a significant victory for Duffins Creek Wetland, we are still concerned about the Ontario government’s increasing use of MZOs to push through development projects without proper environmental scrutiny or protection.”

Phil Pothen, Ontario Environment Program Manager with Environmental Defence, agreed.

“Approving a warehouse on this vital wetland was ill-considered and dangerous, but it was not uniquely reckless.  It typifies the government’s new approach to land use planning in general.”

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