In an exclusive interview, West Island News spoke to Sainte-Anne-De-Bellevue Mayor Paola Hawa regarding one of the most urgent and dangerous issues the West Island faces.
When passing by École Du-Bout-De-L'Isle elementary in Sainte-Anne-De-Bellevue, one might hear the joyous sounds of children playing in the schoolyard, the dogs in surrounding houses barking and of course, the sound of a rifle being shot in the distance. It might seem that one of those sounds does not belong but shockingly, it does.
As it stands, the island of Montreal falls under Zone 8 North, an area that Quebec's ministry of Forests, Wildlife & Parks designates as a regulated hunting zone. This means hunters and poachers can use their guns, bows, crossbows and animal traps to catch their prey in many areas on the island, including the cherished L'Anse-À-L'Orme Nature Park which sits just a few feet away from the elementary school.
While there are a few regulations that must be followed by those on the hunt for game, Sainte-Anne-De-Bellevue mayor, Paola Hawa is growing tired of what she calls "an archaic law" allowed by the government of Quebec. Needless to say, because this is a provincial law, it holds more power in court compared to any regulations the municipality would set to protect the areas. Hawa's main cause of concern? Something she's been saying for almost a decade: "Someone is going to get hurt!"
Kris Artuso spoke to Hawa in a West Island News Exclusive Interview.
Kris: It seems a lot of West Islanders and Montrealers don't know that the Island is part of Zone 8 North which allows hunting on the island. Why is this still a "passible" law?
Paola: Well, I think because the law has been there for a very long time since probably the 1970s and no one has thought to update it to reflect our current reality. When it was "in", the West Island of Montreal was all farmland and contained big forested areas. It might have made sense in those days but it certainly does not make sense in 2021.
Kris: You've been lobbying to add some form of restriction to this for about a decade. What is the hesitation from the City of Montreal or the province of Quebec?
Paola: There is no hesitation from the city of Montreal. We're actually adopting (at the agglomeration council next week) a resolution to convince the Minister (of Forests, Wildlife & Parks) to update and exclude the island of Montreal from Zone 8 North. As for the reticence, I think any kind of change is difficult for most people who see it as something negative. I think it's a question of keeping at it and demonstrating to the Minister that the old law is absurd and needs to be changed. It's a simple as that.
Kris: And with new city projects like the Grand Parc De L'Ouest nature park expansion, for example, would hunting pose risks for passersby and anyone walking in those woods?
Paola: Absolutely! That's the whole point. I remember when I first moved here 20 some-odd years ago, you could go into the forest and not see another human being for the entire day, whereas, you go in now and you'll see people. Especially in these COVID times when people are trying to get some fresh air and go for nature walks. You've got a lot more people walking those trails and it's becoming a lot more popular. Just wait until the REM station in Sainte-Anne-De-Bellevue opens up. It's going to be located at the entrance of the Grand Parc De L'Ouest which will attract people from all over the island so you'll see even more traffic. What are you going to do then? It's absurd. It's illogical. It makes absolutely no sense. How would you, in 2021, mix weapons and families walking on a nature trail together in the same spot - on an island where you have 2 million inhabitants?
Kris: These forests are close to schools.
Paola: In my own district, the forest (L'Anse-À-L'Orme) is right across the street from one of our elementary schools. It's literally 50 feet away. And you're there in the schoolyard listening to the kids at recess laughing and playing -
Kris: And a rifle goes off.
Paola: Exactly. How does that possibly make sense? And I really want to stress that this is NOT a question about hunting. I don't want to get into a debate on the merits or non-merits. Hunting is a different issue. It is a sport that's legal in Quebec and is irrelevant to the question. The only issue we should be concentrating on is the question of safety. I don't want to hear about whether hunting is good or bad. That's not in my thought process. It's purely a question of safety.
Kris: Has the city of Sainte-Anne taken any extra measures to make sure the safety of the children and anyone going into the forest is there?
Paola: Well, what do you want us to do? What exactly can you expect us to do? Apart from adopting a bylaw years ago that says you are not allowed to be walking in there (the forest) with weapons and putting up signs that say you're not allowed to hunt... What can we do? Nothing when it's legal on the provincial level. Our municipal bylaws cannot trump provincial laws. There's really not much more that we can do apart from trying to reason with the Ministre De La Faune to change the law.
Kris: I don't want to speculate but I'd imagine it's not citizens of Sainte-Anne-De Bellevue who are hunting. It's people who come from out of town?
Paola: I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't jump to that conclusion. That's all I'm gonna say.
Kris: This is something you've been passionate about for a long time and lobbying for 10 years; Is this something you would run on in the 2021 (mayoral) election?
Paola: I haven't thought about it that way- but of course! It's part of who I am and I run on everything that I stand for. Be it, protection of the environment or hunting in L'Anse À L'orme. It's part of the package of who I am. I really haven't heard too many people tell me that they're pro-hunting or pro-weapons in L'Anse-À-L'Orme.
Kris: So we can confirm you'll be running?
Paola: Of course I will! There's still a lot of work to do...
Hawa has been mayor of Sainte-Anne-De-Bellevue for the past 7 years.