OKA, Que. – “When the water came out, it came down as black as tar. Tarred black water that will flow into the Lac des Deux Montagnes. We couldn’t have irrigated the fields with that.“
The man who portrays this scene is a farmer from the Oka region. In 2020, he saw first-hand the impact of mountains of waste piled up at the G&R Recyclage site, sometimes oozing blackish liquid. He agreed to be interviewed on condition that his name be kept confidential. “It’s been going on for years. Everyone is afraid,” he says.
The presence of G&R Recyclage has given rise to complaints for years in the region. Opened in 2015 as a recycling centre for construction and demolition debris, it has only accumulated endless rubbish in a small strip of Mohawk land bordered by agricultural fields, on Rang Saint-Jean, in the limit of Oka, Saint-Placide and Kanesatake.
In 2020, Quebec’s Ministry of the Environment revoked the company’s license and cracked down on truckers dumping their loads there. The traffic has stopped. But the waste remains in place. And unpublished Ministry reports reveal how damaging they can be to the environment.
The documents were obtained by a coalition of concerned Mohawks and environmentalists from various walks of life, which is due to publish a report on the dump on Friday. The initiative is supported by a group called ReconciliAction as well as by Eau Secours and an umbrella organization for ecological waste management (FCQGED).
For example, a ministerial inspection report establishes that at the end of 2019, tests in a watercourse running through the site revealed the presence of PCBs. The measured concentration was not considered dangerous, but environmentalists fear that it is only the visible trace of a greater presence of these toxic substances.
An inspector noted an “intense smell” that reminded him of “a mixture of sanitary sewer and rotten egg”.
At the same time, tests have revealed the presence in the water of bacteria Escherichia coli and hydrogen sulphide in a higher than normal proportion, as well as contamination with boron, ammoniacal nitrogen and phenolic compounds.
An inspector noted that the measured rates would have been unacceptable even for a landfill site, when the site in question is supposed to be just a sorting centre. The sources of drinking water for residents are not affected, says the Ministry. But the impact on ecosystems is clear.
“These measured contaminants have an impact on the flora and microfauna of this natural environment,” explains a ministerial inspector.
Upstream of the G&R Recyclage site, the concentrations of contaminants are much lower.
After initially collaborating with the Ministry, the owners of G&R Recyclage cut the bridges in 2020.
“The operator of the sorting centre told me that representatives of the Quebec government are no longer welcome on this Indigenous territory,” explains an inspector in an internal document.
“He advises against using drones to take pictures,” he adds. “He affirms that the site is permanently closed and that the materials will surely remain on site for several years”.
“The conversation was calm and respectful, but the message is clear that we are no longer welcome.“
In fact, the law allows inspectors to enter the site if they have always worked closely with the band council. But the Ministry has exceptionally chosen to comply with the will of the entrepreneur and keep a distance, according to internal communications consulted by La Presse.
“The regional management chooses to continue environmental monitoring in a different way, without accessing the sorting centre,” reads an extract from internal communications consulted by La Presse.
The Ministry for the Environment was unable to comment on Thursday but is expected to respond on Friday. La Presse failed to reach G&R executives. In 2018, they kicked a La Presse team out of their field, complaining about unfair coverage.
“You never give our side of the story, even though we play by all the rules and undergo constant inspections,” one of the leaders said.
G&R Recyclage is owned by brothers Robert and Gary Gabriel, two former Mohawk warriors during the 1990 Oka Crisis. A few years ago, their company was located on Rang du Milieu, in the heart of the community of Kanesatake, which created friction with residents.
“Acts of violence then ensued. Some informers have been attacked. That’s when I offered him a piece of land on the other side of the mountain,“ Grand Chief Serge Simon, of the Kanesatake council, explained to La Voix des Mille-Îles newspaper in 2018.
A Mohawk activist who works with environmental groups now says opposition to G&R remains strong in her community, but no one dares to publicly confront its leaders.
“They may be of Mohawk descent, but they go against all Mohawk values,” says the Mohawk activist, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.
“They do business with Quebec companies that come to dump here because it costs less. Most people of goodwill are disgusted, but they don’t feel safe because of these people’s history of violence,” says the activist.
As early as 1995, La Presse reported that Robert Gabriel had beaten up a resident who challenged former chief Jerry Peltier in the middle of a meeting.
In 2005, Robert and Gary Gabriel were convicted of forcible confinement and participation in a riot, after Grand Chief James Gabriel’s home and the headquarters of the local police station burned down. At trial, former police officer Guy Ouellette, an expert in the fight against organized crime, described Robert Gabriel as the head of a “very violent” organization.
At the same time, James Gabriel had met with American diplomats at the Montreal consulate to appoint Gary and Robert Gabriel as the leaders of drug trafficking in the territory. According to a diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks, the Grand Chief said they were linked to the Hells Angels and other outside criminal groups. James Gabriel claimed that Gary Gabriel had access to assault weapons, explosives and rocket launchers. “The story told by Gabriel is consistent with information gathered from police contacts at the consulate,” said the diplomatic cable.
In 2009, Gary Gabriel was arrested again by a mixed squad of police officers. A military truck, several weapons and AK-47 magazines were seized.
Gordon McGregor, director of the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association, denounced the impact of his group on the community of Kanesatake. “Those behind traditional activities are now showing us what they really are,” he said. “We sent a strong message to criminals: they are harmful to the community.”
On July 1, Gary Gabriel was with gang leader Arsène Mompoint when the latter was assassinated in a cannabis dispensary in Kanesatake. An SPVM investigator has already explained in court that Mompoint was considered the leader of a group that carried out contracts, including murders, for the mafia.
However, the Gabriel brothers were not the only ones to have had an interest in the overflowing rubbish dump of Rang Saint-Jean. Two investors from outside Kanesatake have also become involved in the business in recent years.
Between 2014 and 2016, Stephen Borbely was registered as a shareholder in the Enterprise Register. An official from the Ministry of the Environment confirmed in a report his involvement in the management of the site.
In a lawsuit filed at the Montreal courthouse, Revenu Québec claims that at the time, Borbely ran a company that produced false invoices for clients who wanted to cheat the tax authorities. His business was mortgaged in favour of Rosalba Guerrerra, the wife of cocaine importer Alex Guerra and the former wife of influential Hells Angels member Louis “Melou” Roy. We were unable to speak to Borbely, who appears to be unreachable, according to his former lawyers.
Another investor who was briefly listed as a shareholder in 2015 is Roberto Scoppa, brother of the late Montreal mafia chieftain, Andrew Scoppa. He did not respond to a call from La Presse on Thursday.
The environmental coalition, which is due to publish a report on the company on Friday, hopes to convince the various levels of government to decontaminate the site. They pointed out that the land officially falls under the responsibility of the federal government, under the current law.
Mayor of Oka Pascal Quevillon has also been asking for a meeting with Quebec City and Ottawa on this subject for months. He’s still waiting. “It’s an environmental disaster. It causes a lot of inconvenience, and it is deplorable that the federal government does not act quickly,” he said.
With Daniel Renaud, La Presse