“What is most at stake is the future of our green spaces,” says Zaheer. “I am extremely worried about the fact 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's done."
The friends reached out to students at their former high school to share what they’d learned about the Duffins Creek wetland complex, which has long been designated provincially significant, indicating its special ecological value. They set up a Zoom session with other students and explained that the development had been approved through a Minister’s Zoning Order — a provincial edict that allows the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to make decisions on land zoning while bypassing normal planning processes, such as the citizens’ rights to appeal. 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 Mathura, who is attending his first year of environment, resources, and sustainability studies at the University of Waterloo from his home in Pickering. “It’s really hard to see,” says Zaheer, who studies environmental engineering at the University of Guelph. “Pickering is setting itself up as the poster child for wetland destruction.”
Zaheer and Mathura see the fight for this 57-acre
site, consisting largely of wetland, as part of a larger battle over
public participation and the future of conservation in Ontario. They’re
not alone. In a recent letter, 96 environmental organizations slammed
the Progressive Conservative government’s use of MZOs to overrule
protections for provincially significant wetlands and called for the
Duffins Creek MZO to be revoked. And the matter is also headed for
judicial review: two environmental organizations, Environmental Defence
and the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, filed papers about a month
after the MZO was issued.