Opara Responds To Dropping Of Charges Over Turtle Habitat Against Bracebridge And Officials


Submitted By: Mike Opara

Mike Opara Responds to Dropping of Charges Over Turtle Habitat
Destruction Against Town of Bracebridge and Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Graydon Smith.

Mike Opara issued a statement regarding the dropping of charges against the Town of Bracebridge, Town officials and Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Graydon Smith.
Opara stated:

The dropping of these charges by the Crown acting on behalf of the
Attorney General of Ontario represents another example of the inherent weakness in laws protecting endangered species, species at risk and their habitats. Despite having three highly regarding expert witnesses, one of whom is considered the top turtle expert in Ontario, to support the case against the Town and the individuals and with substantial evidence, the charges will not be coming before an independent judge. The charge had been laid in June 2022 before a Justice of the Peace who reviewed the evidence and agreed to lay the charges. The Province’s Ministry of the Environment and Parks (MECP) has been criticized by the Auditor General for not enforcing Species at Risk laws under Premier Ford.

The Crown did acknowledge “the undisputed presence of other species of turtles (Snapping and Painted Turtles) in the relevant area at the relevant time.” The eggs and embryos of these turtles were damaged or destroyed by the Town’s unnecessary road grading of shoulder areas near Sage Creek despite the fact that the Town had been repeatedly warned of such nests. Attached is a photograph of an independent expert reviewing the damage to the turtle nests taken after the Town’s road grading operations during the period in question.

The Crown also made a statement of a scientific nature of Blanding turtle presence that is disputed by these experts. The experts were going to testify that there is Banding’s turtle habitat along Sage Creek and that given its location is between two known occurrences of protected Blanding’s turtle habitat with confirmed independent sightings on Sage Creek, that this is a corridor for Blanding’s turtles.

Furthermore the Town had been asked in a Freedom of Information
request to release all reports conducted by or on behalf of the Town that dealt with the turtles. The Town refuses to be forthcoming and instead provided heavily redacted reports including a report dealing with Species at Risk and endangered species at the location. These redactions are currently being appealed to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

Opara states: “This is a sad and unfortunate result for the protection of endangered, at risk and threatened species in Muskoka. We need better laws and have current laws actually enforced by the Province’s Ministry of the Environment and Parks. At the current rate of destruction we will be losing all of our turtles, reptiles and other endangered, at risk and threatened species. The Town of Bracebridge just doesn’t get it. They are certainly not innocent of destroying turtle nests and habitat. They could have simply instructed their staff to raise the blade on the shoulders at Sage Creek. They can’t or won’t even do something this simple and which
makes common sense. They appear to have no desire to protect the
beauty of Muskoka.

Two recent examples of the Town’s lack of desire and destructive plans are the environmentally disastrous Muskoka Royale project (currently before the Ontario Land Tribunal) and the approval of Fowler Construction’s Muskoka Mega Quarry which was rammed through Town Council just days before the recent municipal election. The Quarry is located on 900 acres of pristine Muskoka landscape and includes 40 acres of wetlands which will be destroyed forever. The Mega Quarry, besides destroying wildlife habitat, represents an acute danger to the Muskoka watershed, the drinking water and the health and safety of all Muskoka residents. Ford Government Minster Graydon Smith was reported in a local newspaper to have been a ‘consultant’ to Fowler while he was Mayor of Bracebridge. Now he is the very Minster overseeing the granting to Fowler permission to expand its quarry operations. The Town appears to cater to special interests and not the interests of its residents. An independent investigation is urgently needed.”

*The views and opinions in this submitted article do not reflect the opinions and views of Muskoka411 News.


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