Quebec Superior Court greenlights deer hunt in Longueuil park to thin herd

Longueuil's effort to cull the deer dates back years but animal rights activists have launched petitions, protests and legal challenges. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Longueuil's effort to cull the deer dates back years but animal rights activists have launched petitions, protests and legal challenges. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A city on Montreal's South Shore finally has the legal green light to thin a destructive deer herd that has been wreaking ecological havoc on one of the area's largest public parks.

Animal rights activists have been fighting the city of Longueuil tooth and nail, delaying the deer cull in Michel-Chartrand park by years with petitions, protests and finally a legal battle in Quebec Superior Court that ended with a ruling in the municipality's favour on Tuesday.

The court ruled the park is seriously overcrowded with deer. The size of the herd has tripled since 2017, reaching roughly 100 in number, in a space that is roughly two square kilometres. That amounts to enough green space to accommodate a maximum of 15 deer, court documents say.

Longueuil announced on Wednesday that the cull will move forward with a crossbow hunt this fall, thinning a herd that the city says is contributing to ecological degradation.

The non-profit organization that challenged the city, Sauvetage Animal Rescue, plans to appeal the Superior Court's decision, according to its lawyer, Anne-France Goldwater.

Over the summer, an online petition calling for the deer to be sterilized, treated and relocated garnered more than 2,700 signatures.  Sauvetage Animal Rescue and Longueuil resident Florence Meney argued in court that the capture and relocation of the animals is possible.

However, a provincial ethics committee rejected Sauvetage Animal Rescue's proposal to relocate the deer over safety concerns in February 2021.

The committee found too many red flags in the plan, including concerns that the animals would panic and endanger the lives of everyone involved as they can reach over 40 km/h, according committee chair Dr. Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt, a veterinarian at the Université de Montréal.

Vaillancourt has also said sterilization is costly and unrealistic. As for relocation, deer are notoriously difficult to move, often getting injured or killed in the process, according to experts like Anaïs Gasse, a biologist with Quebec's Wildlife Ministry.

She said last year that many of the deer would die within days if relocated due to the difficulty in adapting to new surroundings.

Regardless, the legality surrounding the capture and relocation of deer has not even been established, and that disqualifies it as a valid alternative, the Superior Court ruled Tuesday.

The Montreal SPCA, which had intervenor status in the case, said late Wednesday that it will ask for leave to appeal the ruling.

Hunting is already allowed in other parts of Longueuil, including a neighbouring nature reserve, the Boisé Du Tremblay. Across Quebec, a total of 54,762 white-tail deer were harvested by hunters in 2021, according to the ministry.

Over the summer, Longueuil was issued a provincial permit authorizing a crossbow hunt in the park. Officials opted for the hunt because an initial plan to capture and euthanize the deer proved to be too technically challenging.

Now with the crossbow hunt's court challenge out of the way, Longueuil says in a statement that it will soon announce more details about its plan to temporarily close the park to the public so the hunt can be carried out during hunting season this fall.

Beyond that, the city says no further comment will be issued.