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Parks Canada removes trash bins along Lachine Canal to spur citizen responsibility

MONTREAL — On warm days, Montreal's Lachine Canal can attract thousands of picnickers, cyclists and pedestrians.
Local resident Cemre Uzumnehmetoglu and her dog Viktor walk on the boardwalk of Montreal's Lachine Canal in Montreal, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Parks Canada has removed trash cans from sections of Montreal's Lachine Canal leading to bags of waste and litter being dropped throughout the site. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

MONTREAL — On warm days, Montreal's Lachine Canal can attract thousands of picnickers, cyclists and pedestrians. 

But since Parks Canada recently removed around 30 trash bins from the paths along the historic waterway, Ariana Ranjbar says she has begun to notice a new phenomenon at one popular lawn.

“I started noticing a lot of poop bags building up," Ranjbar, 26, said on Wednesday alongside the canal in Montreal's Griffintown neighbourhood. In her hand she held a plastic bag full of her dog's excrement. Steps away, four such bags sat on the ground, and a fifth dangled from a nearby tree.

"I don't like when people don't pick up or do leave garbage around," she said. The decision to get rid of garbage cans, she added, "is a way of probably accumulating garbage and/or deterring people from the area."

In a message posted to Facebook on Friday, Parks Canada said the removal of the garbage bins is meant "to encourage citizens to take responsibility for the management of waste destined for landfill sites."

Ranjbar was one of several Lachine Canal visitors interviewed who say they were surprised by the move and who worry it will negatively affect a recreational area known for its convivial atmosphere.

“If they want people outside, and enjoying the outside, and they know that in the summer, especially, it’s an area often people will have picnics and come with friends and family and dogs — I don’t really understand," Ranjbar lamented.

The Lachine Canal National Historic Site is a 14-kilometre strip of federal land that runs from the city's Lachine borough in the west to the Old Port in the east. Once an industrial shipping corridor, much of the canal is now bordered by parks, cafés and glassy condo towers. Parks Canada states online that it draws more than one million visitors a year, and in the summer its banks host festivals, spikeball games and countless informal gatherings.

The agency said in an online notice published Wednesday that removing the bins is a pilot project "intended to address overflowing garbage cans resulting from the deposit of household and construction waste in this recreational setting, while also encouraging residents to become more aware of the amount of garbage generated that is destined for landfills."

Parks Canada said it plans to monitor the effectiveness of the project, with teams prepared to pick up litter and "evaluate and adapt this project on an ongoing basis." It did not say how long the measure would last. Parks Canada did not make anyone available for an interview on Wednesday.

But Cyril Laib, 24, and Lisa Rossignol, 26, say the absent bins have already become a major inconvenience as they walk their dog and pick up after it. "It's so bad. It's so inefficient," Rossignol said Wednesday. "We have to walk extra far to find the trash because obviously we’re not taking this home."

Griffintown resident Zaira Silva, 45, said it makes sense for Parks Canada to encourage visitors to its expansive wilderness reserves to manage their own garbage, but that policy seems out of place in the narrow, urban historic site. 

"It's different, to compare with big parks where we go and we know it's difficult to collect the rubbish," she said in a phone interview. "You can't compare a national park with this kind of park in the city, where there are a lot of people passing by."

She said she wishes Parks Canada had been more proactive with its awareness campaign, for example by replacing garbage cans with posters explaining the change.

Pernille Bertram-Larsen agreed there should be an accompanying strategy to inform the public. The 29-year-old Danish tourist said she was unaware there were ever trash bins where she sat to eat lunch on Wednesday, but that she liked the idea of making people responsible for their own trash. 

"But I don't think that you can just remove trash cans without informing people of what to do with it," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2024.

Thomas MacDonald, The Canadian Press