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UPDATE: Council of Canadians expresses solidarity with ‘occupy the trees’ group

CBC reports, “A group of protesters in western Quebec have to leave Gatineau Park and remove their decorations by noon Thursday, according to Quebec’s Ministry of Transportation. The ministry said it is prepared to instruct police to forcibly remove protesters from the forest in Gatineau Park if they do not leave voluntarily. …The group fears for 200-year-old trees that could be chopped down for the road’s extension.”

The Ottawa Citizen adds, “Opponents of the Highway 5 extension near Wakefield will rally at their protest camp Thursday, saying they’ve been told the Quebec ministry of transportation intends to dismantle the camp at noon. Clear-cutting is expected to begin Monday in the final section of the extension of Highway 5, a four-lane auto route…”

“Opponents of the work say they will sit up in some of the largest white pines to block the cutting. In early January, they established a camp in the forest off Brown Lake Road, just south of Wakefield.”

If the tree-sitting can delay the cutting by even just a few months, more time will be won to stop the project. “The cutting is under a tight deadline: It has to stop in early spring under environmental rules, so that trees won’t come down when baby birds are in nests.”

-There are concerns that the Valley Drive Spring, a popular water source in Wakefield, could be contaminated by the extension of Highway 5. The West Quebec Post has reported, “A federal assessment (which approved the extension) acknowledged (that no one knows the exact source of all the spring water)… The 1986 Quebec consultation did not look at hydrology.” CBC has reported, “Transport Canada performed a preliminary assessment and determined that the project – which would involve lopping off a nearby hilltop – could contaminate the aquifer.”

-“There are also unresolved questions about how much water some residents will get from the new wells that replace a communal well in the path of the construction. The four homes along Vallée Verde Drive, just south of Wakefield, have always used a shared well on National Capital Commission property. …But that well is too close to the future highway, and risks contamination. The Quebec Ministry of Transport agreed to drill new wells for each of the homes, and a federal environmental assessment in 2010 set out a condition that these new wells must be hooked up to the houses before construction begins. They haven’t been.”

February 16, 2012: We have offered legal, media and mobilization support to the group prepared to occupy the trees to stop the destruction of the trees and water.

February 9, 2012: Water campaigner Emma Lui posted this action alert calling on people to contact Quebec premier Jean Charest on this issue, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13501.

January 6, 2012: Political Director Brent Patterson visited the site, saw the 300-year-old white pine tree that is scheduled to be cut down, and expressed solidarity with the group.

September 17, 2011: Water campaigner Meera Karunananthan spoke at a rally in Wakefield. She highlighted the United Nations’ recognition of the right to water, “It’s nice to have principles, but communities need tools to fight back when governments decide to violate these principles.”

February 20, 2011: Chairperson Maude Barlow spoke at a campaign fundraiser at the popular Black Sheep Inn for SOS Wakefield. She said, “You are stewards of the water, water warriors.” We also encouraged people to text Quebec’s environment minister and demand that he protect the local water from the highway extension.

January 6, 2011: Ontario-Quebec organizer Mark Calzavara spoke at a SOS Wakefield media conference. He said, “The poorly conceived expansion of nearby Highway A-5, is a project that will carve away a mountain top, flatten a few thousand trees before paving a pair of massive ‘traffic circles’ across the suspected recharge zone of the spring itself.”

May 2010: We began highlighting this issue in campaign blogs and visited the Valley Drive Spring to learn more about the situation.