Maguire Meadow Garden Deemed Illegal

I hate to put up a second post about bizarre law-enforcing activities over the weekend, but it has to be said: last Sunday, the Montreal Police broke up a rogue gardening session in Mile End.

For the past two years, artist Emily Rose Michaud and a collective of gardeners called Sprout Out Loud! have tended the soil and planted seeds in an abandoned CP lot in Maguire meadow, located in the North-East corner of Mile End. As I wrote last fall, the objective of the garden was to draw attention to a neglected green space and highlight the cultural and environmental value of the space.

And draw attention it did. A passionate post by Marke on the Imagine Mile End blog describes the situation last Sunday:

“The Montreal Police made it clear that Montrealers who work to beautify neglected green spaces in their neighbourhoods have no right to do so, and in fact are treading on criminal ground.”

Its not clear whether this was another case of over-zealous policing or whether the police were responding to a complaint. No charges were brought against the gardeners, but warning were issued. According to Marke:

“…it has been clearly communicated to us that no resident of Mile-End (or elsewhere in Montreal) has the right to move rocks, pull weeds, plant flowers (or any other plants), or in any other way try to beautify or change their community…at least not on Canadian Pacific property.”

The land in question was private – albeit neglected – property belonging to CP that is in the process of being sold to the Plateau borough. Ultimately the borough’s intent is to extend Saint-Viateur street to the Carmelite convent, a plan that some residents criticize as it would pave over one of the only green spaces in the neighbourhood. For decades “grey space” has been appropriated by local residents to walk dogs, exercise, practice art and music, and even hold the occasional bonfire.

To me the most curious thing about the situation is that, while planting, weeding, and landscaping the site are banned activities, police told the residents that they may continue to pick up litter at the site. If the police were working to enforce anti-trespassing rules on private property, or if they were responding to liability concerns on the part of the private owners, why would citizens continue to be allowed to keep the site tidy?

The law specifically prevents people from leaving any lasting trace on public land (or in this case abandoned, soon to be public land). Perhaps it is because these actions would legitimize residents’ appropriation of the place long-term.

Imagine Mile End writes: “There is a great deal of momentum and interest growing around this green space, and the redevelopment of this part of Mile-End over all. And everything I have heard about Helen Fotopoulos and this borough government makes it clear that they are not happy with the possibility of having to actually change their plans due to public pressure.”

In a comment on the Imagine Mile End blog, borough mayor Helen Fotopoulos, said she is hurt by insinuation that the borough called the police and added: “had I been invited and in town I would have probably joined you in the project.

Representatives from Sprout Out Loud and Imagine Mile End are currently seeking a meeting with the borough to clarify what their rights are in this “grey space.”

Although it may technically be illegal, this kind of spontaneous, grass-roots action can make people feel engaged in their neighbourhood in a hands-on, constructive way. This kind of activity can foster citizenship and community involvement to a degree that top-down initiatives are hard-pressed to achieve. I certainly hope that the local powers-that-be see the potential value of that.

MAY 24 UPDATE: Marke follows up with the Borough and the Police and finds out that niether the borough nor the CP called the police. The police were apparently following up on a call about people camping in the meadow overnight and really don’t mind the gardening activities afterall.

Image: Children play around the Roerich Garden during the Jane’s Walk May 2nd. Photo from Imagine (le) Mile End.

12 comments

  1. This is private property, what’s so hard to understand? What if squaters moved into an abandoned building and began renovating? Would the building then belong to the squaters?

  2. Or maybe people who have a place to live might just decide to set up a studio or something in that abandoned building – the list goes on and the assumptions all around are endless, but the main one is the implication that somehow only “homeless” people or “criminals” normally have any interest in these places. Communities SHOULD be taking back the unused spaces along their peripheries. In a sane world such things could be unquestionably negotiated to your basic win, win, win situation. Instead we have absurd laws, totally ineffective lines of communication, and a political climate that favors developers over neighbors. But I do believe that that can all change.

  3. Quelle honte! Un espace complètement négligé a eu droit à une cure de vitalisation grace au travail de quelques motivés et on leur dit qu’ils dépassent les bornes? Pauvre ville! On ne peut pas toléré que la police vienne s’immicer dans le développement naturel du Mile end.

  4. Ces gens là sont vraiment des braillards… Ils vont tu nous jouer du violon aussi?

    Même si c’est pas dit, c’est clair que c’est le CP qui a demandé à ce que la police “protège” son terrain vague. Pour avoir grandi en bordure d’un terrain qu’il leur appertenait aussi, je sais comment ils sont chiants.
    Donc c’est probablement pas la faute de la police mais du CP.

  5. First of all, I agree with you that it would be nice to allow residents to use this grey area.

    That being said, this is private property and CP does not allow anyone under any circumstance to go on their lands. I know this first hand because I used to walk my dog in a nearby forest on CP lands but the last 3 times I was approached by Railway Police warning me that I could face a fine of $150 (it was the same guy all three times… I had a different jacket each time but he was obviously playing stupid as he must have recognized me). After 3 warnings in a row (I am lucky to not have been fined), I am no longer taking any chances.

    The police is in fact separate and will only act if the landowner calls upon them (just if we had squatters on our own land). In fact, the first time I stepped onto CP lands, there happened to be some cops at the entrance and I asked “can I go here?” and they responded “yes”, because I guess I seemed like a harmless dog walker. Well, they were wrong (about the access rule, not me… ok, me too) and now CP are strongly enforcing this rule. My wife thought she was immune because she was a woman but she was also stopped right at the entrance a few weeks back and was told not to return or she would be fined.

    Long story short… it sucks, I wish we could have the city take over this unused land for parks and recreation… but until that time, it’s private land. I am just happy this story ended with a simple warning as compared to that absurd Laval police story.

  6. If its simply a question of preventing trespassing on private land, why is litter collection on the site still permitted?

  7. Citizens are encouraged to clean up the crap left on corporate lands, but do not have the right to benefit in any way from the result, as that would be trespassing!

  8. I don’t know, sounds like a cop with false info (just like the cop that told me it was ok to walk on CP land).

  9. Citizens trying to improve their neighbourhoods, without corporate or government photo-ops?

    Such shockingly criminal behavior should not be stood for!

  10. It is possible to recognise private property rights while providing that the said property must be kept up or used; property owners can be fined for derelict or dangerous buildings or lots. France has strong laws on paper about requisition of buildings left vacant; housing activists there squat to try to obtain application of these provisions.

    I agree with the importance of having a greenspace in this area (we have very little north of the railway line either, in the western part of Petite-Patrie) but at the same time I do agree with developing housing in the area, including as high a percentage of social housing (cooperatives, HLM, OSBL) as feasable. It is close to a métro station and many desirable amenities and services.

    There is a rather interesting development just east of the Rosemont métro, with a combination of affordable (one hopes) condos and social housing (think a cooperative and an HLM for elderly people), and a community centre in a former municipal building that will house both a library and a swimming pool.

    I do hope that eventually the Carmelites convent located very close by can be acquired by the arrondissement for public use – what a treasure that would be, with the many species of trees!

  11. The police once again comes to the rescue! I’m surprised they did tazer and detain the gardeners for their reckless behavior! /sarcasm

  12. it’s private property and the law it’s clear about that. but still is silly that a ground that looks like hell can’t be made beautiful at least temporary until the owner of that property decides what to do with it. we live in a totally defective world

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