The City of Montreal apparently didn't knowÂ it needed federal approval for its controversial proposalÂ to dumpÂ billions of litres of sewage into the St. LawrenceÂ River â€”Â until a month before it planned to do so.
A series of emails obtained by Radio-Canada from the federal governmentÂ through an access to information request shows there was a misunderstanding over the project that dates back as early as September 2015.
An employee for the cityÂ wrote on Sept. 28 of that yearÂ he was surprised after the federal government, at that time headed by prime minister Stephen Harper,Â issued a reminder to MontrealÂ that it was mandatory to have federal approval to move forward with the dump.
"I am surprised to receive your request today," wrote Michel Malo, who works for Montreal'sÂ water treatment services.
"We are in a situation where a delay in the start date will put the whole project in peril."
A sign warns to avoid contact with the water along the shore of the St. Lawrence River on Nov. 13, 2015 in Montreal. The city dumped 8 billion litres of raw sewage into the river while repairs are being made to the sewage collectors. (Photo: Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)
In the sameÂ email,Â Malo wroteÂ the city was convinced that approval from the Quebec government was enough to proceed with the sewage dump due to a dealÂ between Ottawa and Quebec.
The city believed a federal decree from March 2015 and Quebec's approval were enough to move forwardÂ â€” except the decreeÂ was never adopted.
Eventually,Â MontrealÂ did receiveÂ permission, in November,Â byÂ Canada's environment and climate change minister to proceed with the controversial dump but it had to meet of a slew of conditions first.
Over the course of four days in November, the city pumped 4.9 billion litres of sewage into the St. Lawrence River.Â
The wastewater had to beÂ diverted into the river to fix aÂ 30-kilometre-longÂ southeast interceptor, the city said.
The waters of the St.Lawrence River flow past the city of Montreal on Nov. 11, 2015. (Photo: Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)
The emails reveal the frustrationÂ felt by some employees over the oversightÂ just weeks before the sewage dump was slated to start in October.
"How is it possible that the federal decree ... was never adopted?" wrote Tony Di Fruscia, a city engineer,Â to a federal counterpart.
He said "it'sÂ extremely frustrating" to deal with overlapping and contradictory information.
Montreal had informed Ottawa of its plans as early as 2014 but Environment Canada reached out a year later to remind the city it needed approval.
Emails also show Montreal tried to make the request for approval through an online system but said it didn't work.