Ally Zaheer, an organizer of a “shoe strike” event to save Pickering wetlands
THE HEAVY HAND OF GOVERNMENT DIDN’T WORK. Developers will not get to build a monster warehouse on protected wetlands in Pickering, Ontario. Citizen activism won’t allow it.
The developers thought they had manufactured a slam dunk for themselves.
They had greased the skids with thousands in donations to the mayor, local MPP and even premier Ford; the provincial government had ordered the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) to disregard legitimate environmental concerns and issue a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO), to allow the warehouse build; the government had passed a special regulation to remove the remaining legal power the TRCA had to block MZOs; Amazon had indicated a real interest in the warehouse once built; Pickering city council nailed it all down with a unanimous vote to support the developers.
The fix should have been well and truly in. It wasn’t. Citizen activists got Pickering city council to undo it all.
Council overrules itself
On March 22 the council unanimously voted to request the provincial government to take back what the council had asked for about five months earlier: the council requested the Ontario government to rescind the part of the zoning edict that would have allowed the building of a warehouse of up to 4 million square feet on a large parcel of Duffins Creek wetland.
The one thing the developers and politicians had not allowed for was the people of Pickering. It turned out that for a great many of the everyday folks in Pickering their city is a lot more than warehouses and pie-in-the-sky promises of economic development.
Pickering is a small city of about 100,000 people on the shore of Lake Ontario about 40 km due east of Toronto. The Duffins Creek wetlands are classed as “provincially-significant” as they are especially important for flood control, water quality and biodiversity. Public opposition to building anything there began the day the council voted to approve the warehouse plan.
The public protests
It broke out into the open in January when Environmental Action Now Ajax-Pickering (EANAP), organized a protest along two sides of a street running up to the wetland.
In February, EANAP and others blocked the entrance to the wetlands site as work was set to begin. The blockade caught some attention, but work to prepare the site continued.
Next, youth activists Devin Mathura and Ally Zaheer organized a shoe strike at Pickering City Hall. Organizers laid out 920 pairs of shoes that were donated to the cause to show the strong opposition to the development. The shoes were later donated to charity.
Ally and Devin began to organize opposition to the warehouse project with a Zoom session with other students to explain that the development had been approved through imposing a MZO that blew by normal planning processes—and prohibited any public participation in the procedure. Then they coordinated a “phone zap.”
“Everyone muted themselves, and we started spamming Doug Ford’s office, [MPP] Peter Bethlenfalvy’s office, and the [Pickering] mayor’s office,” says Devin.
“Pickering is setting itself up as the poster child for wetland destruction,” says Ally.
“I am extremely worried that they’re just going to get into this cycle of paving over things, and it’s going to be too late before they realize what they’ve done.”
On March 6 more than 300 people march from the office of Pickering–Uxbridge MPP Peter Bethlenfalvy to Pickering city hall calling for the MZO to be repealed. In the days after, EANAP holds more phone zaps to call government officials and also stages protests outside the Toronto office of Triple Properties, the developer of the would-be warehouse.
On March 12 CBC News reports that Amazon Canada is no longer considering the site for a warehouse.
On March 15 Chief Kelly LaRocca, of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, calls on the Ford government to rescind the MZO: “With support waning from Amazon, the city of Pickering, and the developers themselves, MSIFN once again calls on the Ford government to withdraw their MZO.”
EANAP continues picketing outside Pickering city hall.
On March 22 Pickering city council sits. More than 15 delegations urge them to rescind its request for an MZO. Ally Zaheer tells the council to listen to residents and “own up to their mistakes.”
The council votes unanimously to request that the minister rescind the portion of the MZO that would see the wetland paved over for a warehouse.
“We finally got them to stop using the law to break the law,” says Ally Zaheer
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