Construction Nexus, an excavation company often sanctioned for its environmental failings, has been unloading soil from construction sites in the Montreal region on the banks of the Ottawa River in Kanesatake for months. While the Mohawk Band Council is putting Nexus on notice to stop dumping this debris there, Mohawk leaders who fear water contamination have been violently attacked, La Presse has learned.

June 5, 2024. Trucks from the Laval company Nexus converge on the small municipality of Oka. In almost an hour, La Presse lists around ten trucks which, from Highway 640, take Chemin d’Oka and Rang Sainte-Philomène along the Ottawa River.

Once in the Mohawk territory of Kanesatake, these vehicles enter recently deforested land. It is there, at the end of the site, near the watercourse, that they dump the soil loaded earlier in a construction site in the Montreal region.

A truck we followed was loading soil from a road site in Beaconsfield. Following a similar approach, the English media The Rover claimed on Saturday that soil from construction sites in Laval and along Highway 440 was being dumped in Mohawk territory.

Images that La Presse captured with a drone show a 10-wheel truck which, in Kanesatake, unloads 20 cubic meters of stone and earth from its dumpster. Next to it, a mechanical excavator and a bulldozer compact the piles that accumulate here and there. An hour earlier, this same bulldozer was working the surface of a neighboring land where the embankment has made the beach which was there until recently disappear.

This daily coming and going of Nexus trucks disturbs and worries members of the community. On May 14, the Band Council also sent a formal notice to the company – and to its president, Romeo Sacchetti – to force a halt to the work. “If you believe, or if you have been advised, that this is a lawless region, you are wrong,” reads the document that La Presse obtained.

The Council reminds “that federal environmental laws apply, as do provincial environmental laws”. If Nexus does not “immediately stop all dumping on the Mohawk territory of Kanesatake,” legal action will be taken, says the Band Council.

“Despite attempts by Council members to block these trucks’ access to Mohawk territory, your company’s drivers continued to arrive and treat Kanesatake as an unregulated dumping site,” it is written.

What this formal notice does not describe, however, is the division these activities cause in the community. An explosive situation which led, last May, to a violent altercation between the owner of one of the sites and two heads of the Council, Serge Otsi Simon and Brent Etienne.

In a video viewed by La Presse, we see the leaders questioning a Nexus trucker. A few minutes later, the site owner arrives and the situation escalates. A fight breaks out. The latter punches one of the leaders while an employee throws the other member of the Band Council to the ground.

Chief Brent Etienne, involved in the altercation, deplores what is happening in Kanesatake: “It is truly regrettable that people who do not have our community at heart are completely changing the territory that has supported the inhabitants of Kanesatake since 6000 years old. As far back as we can remember, the lake [des Deux Montagnes] has provided fish to our people and the land has given us the crops and wood necessary to build our homes. »

A similar story from Chief Serge Otsi Simon: “To backfill as they do, near the lake, they must have the green light from the Band Council and there must also be an environmental study. But all this was not done. They ignored our environment department. »

“I have already told Minister Ian Lafrenière: these are companies that have permits from your government, so it is your responsibility to stop these trucks and sanction them,” he said, indicating that the negligence of governments is one of the reasons why companies dump debris in Mohawk territory. He adds in the same breath: “I’ve said it a thousand times that we don’t have the resources to stop this. We don’t have a police force; we don’t have barracks and we don’t have officers to monitor the environment. »

Pascal Quévillon, mayor of Oka, is well aware of the situation. Trucks have been passing through the downtown area of ​​his municipality to go to Kanesatake for years. “But the back and forth has been more intense since February or March of this year,” he notes. He challenged the deputies from his constituency, but also the Minister of the Environment of Quebec, Benoit Charette, and that of Relations with First Nations and Inuit, Ian Lafrenière.

The mayor said he fears contamination of the municipality’s drinking water.

The company’s president, Romeo Sacchetti, declined our interview requests. When contacted by La Presse, the company had not acknowledged receipt of the formal notice that the Band Council sent last month.

It was the National public relations firm that finally sent comments by email on behalf of Nexus last Friday. It is written that in the last few hours the company contacted the Band Council to ask it to “provide additional information in order to better understand the factual basis of the elements alleged therein”.

Nexus affirms that it “has not at any time dumped soil into the Ottawa River” and ensures “that it maintains a buffer strip between the natural environments and the deposit site”. Its “commitment to environmental protection remains unwavering,” it says, reiterating that it is only responsible for transporting the soil and not the fill.

Construction Nexus – which displays its LEED certification on its website – is no stranger to environmental infractions. Since 2020, the Ministry of the Environment has sent it six administrative monetary sanctions, the equivalent of fines for environmental violations. Three concern the unauthorized processing of construction residual materials in Laval.

The sanctions of recent months are linked to the dumping of soil, in wetlands, on agricultural land that Nexus purchased in Mirabel in December 2022. The Ministry’s inspections made it possible to detect the presence of hydrocarbons in what was dumped .

The Commission for the Protection of Agricultural Land of Quebec has also opened an investigation into this subject and the municipality, for its part, forced the closure of the site last September.

In Kanesatake, Nexus does business with the company Excavation X, responsible for the embankment. Its owner, Dany Duchaine, has been involved in several cases of inadequate land disposal. In 2020, the Ministry of the Environment cracked down on another of its companies – which calls itself Nycel Dépôt or Remblai Expert – for dumping contaminated soil on agricultural land in Saint-Eustache.

More recently, he participated in non-compliant backfilling on agricultural land in Mirabel belonging to the treasurer of the Laurentides division of the Union of Agricultural Producers, as Le Devoir reported last fall.

Dany Duchaine refused to grant an interview to La Presse. “Go see the landowners I work for. I am hired by them. It’s not me who delivers,” he replied when asked about his activities in Mohawk territory.