Parker Lands protesters not giving up legal fight as developer begins cutting trees

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Parker Lands protesters not giving up legal fight as developer begins cutting trees

Days after protesters took down their tents and flags, crews on the Parker Lands in Winnipeg began cutting down trees.

While CBC was not allowed to enter the area on Tuesday, heavy trucks and wood chippers could clearly be heard metres away from the site near Waverley Street and Hurst Way.

On Thursday last week, Justice James Edmond ordered protesters to decamp from the site so the landowner — two numbered companies with connections to developer Gem Equities and its owner Andrew Marquess — could continue to prepare the Parker Lands for development.

Crews had already razed three to four acres by Tuesday afternoon, said Laura Pearson, a resident who supported the protest.

"My stomach's tight. What can I say? I feel so sick that after all this … that we're at this point," she said.

In July, she and other protesters set up a camp to block workers from accessing mulching equipment after learning about 15 acres — six hectares — of forest had been taken down. All tree removal work ground to a halt until this week.

Protestors decried the removal of the trees for a range of reasons. Some said the land had ties to Rooster Town, a Métis settlement, while others said the land was sensitive and an important habitat for migratory birds.

Some who lived in the area simply said they enjoyed the 42 acres — 17 hectares — of wild green space for walks.

Nancy Thomas, a supporter who visited the camp to deliver food and pick up garbage, is helping head a legal retaliation against Marquess and the companies he's connected with.

On Friday, she filed a notice of application at the Court of Queen's Bench naming the City of Winnipeg, Marquess and his development firm Gem Equities, asking for a judicial review into the controversial land swap deal between Marquess and the city in 2009 that saw him take ownership of the site.

It did not involve formal property assessments, inspections or competitive tendering, consulting firm EY concluded in a 2014 external audit.

"We are claiming the city acted in excess of its jurisdiction and it just wasn't proper," Thomas said.

She and other protestors are also looking to the courts to protect trees on the site more immediately.

On Tuesday, Thomas filed a motion that asks for all tree clearing to stop until Marquess obtains City of Winnipeg permits to do so and can present a development agreement.

Marquess maintained he does not need a permit to cut down trees on his private property and has presented evidence in court that the city's planning department does not require one.

Thomas said she plans to be in court Wednesday to have her motion heard as soon as possible.