Officials in Laval, Que., working with police, have launched an investigation after green space advocates captured video of what appears to be camouflage-clad men covertly draining a patch of wetland over the weekend.
It's still not known why the men allegedly dragged large pipes, a pump and hoses into a wooded sector near Saint-Elzéar Boulevard West, but Laval's deputy mayor, Stéphane Boyer, says it certainly won't lead to any construction permits being issued — if that was their plan.
"I don't understand why someone would do that. If they were thinking it would help them to build something, that's not the case," he said.
Boyer said a task force including local police and Laval's urban planning department will investigate.
"We'll make sure that there's a follow up to that story," he said. "The site is surrounded by buildings. Hopefully, there will be cameras. Maybe we can get more information."
The land is co-owned by Laval and three companies. It is surrounded by residential developments and busy roadways. Just two weeks ago, the city signed a contract to buy more of the green space.
WATCH | Raw video captured of the wetland-draining operation:
The provincial government is also looking into the matter.
A spokesperson for Quebec's Environment Ministry said once the site is inspected, the ministry will determine the next step.
"The ministry takes this situation very seriously and will not rule out recourse to ensure a return to compliance," wrote spokesperson Caroline Cloutier in an email.
'A little oasis' in urban neighbourhood
Manon Pettas is among a group of advocates who want to see more green space protected in Laval, and this patch of wetlands is on the group's list of must-save spaces.
The group, Les amis des milieux naturels de Laval, says the wetlands provide many ecological and societal benefits such as reducing greenhouse gases and providing a refuge for wildlife.
"This little oasis is among the only remaining natural environments in this urban area and, if protected, it could offer citizens a place to explore and connect with nature," the group says on its Facebook page.
In her effort to protect the land, Pettas was touring the area on Sunday when she spotted the drainage operation.
She broke out her phone and started taking video, clearly enraged by what she was filming as she walked along the stretch of hoses and pipes.
Suddenly, she can be heard shouting at what appears to be people fleeing into the greenery. She accuses them of trying to quickly wrap up the hoses before making a hasty escape.
"I was in shock to see some people running in camouflage," Pettas said. "It looks like two or three that were running away because they were caught in action."
The green space is rich with plants, trees, animals and birds, she said.
"How can you think to destroy a place like that," Pettas said, noting she phoned the police shortly after seeing the men run away.
Group fights to protect green space
Benoît Durand, co-founder of the advocacy group, says areas that were under water are now dry.
"I can't say how much of the water was drained, but I would say a good two feet [60 centimetres]," he said.
"We can see around the ponds, the beach, I am going to call it the beach, the amount of land that is now visible that was not visible before."
Durand says the group is working with experts to determine what can be done to restore the wetland to the way it was before the incident. At the same time, the group is continuing to push for the land's protection.
Pettas, who lives next to the land, said the forest cools down the area and provides a home to a wide array of animals. She still has hope that the land will be preserved, she said.
"We know about climate change," she said. "We know that we need some green spaces. We need that freshness."