The City of Montreal apparently didn't know¬†it needed federal approval for its controversial proposal¬†to dump¬†billions of litres of sewage into the St. Lawrence¬†River ‚ÄĒ¬†until a month before it planned to do so.
A series of emails obtained by Radio-Canada from the federal government¬†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 city¬†wrote on Sept. 28 of that year¬†he was surprised after the federal government, at that time headed by prime minister Stephen Harper,¬†issued a reminder to Montreal¬†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's¬†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 same¬†email,¬†Malo wrote¬†the city was convinced that approval from the Quebec government was enough to proceed with the sewage dump due to a deal¬†between Ottawa and Quebec.
The city believed a federal decree from March 2015 and Quebec's approval were enough to move forward¬†‚ÄĒ except the decree¬†was never adopted.
Eventually,¬†Montreal¬†did receive¬†permission, in November,¬†by¬†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.¬†
The wastewater had to be¬†diverted into the river to fix a¬†30-kilometre-long¬†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 frustration¬†felt by some employees over the oversight¬†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,¬†to a federal counterpart.
He said "it's¬†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.