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Ottawa . Construction workers at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China have been dumping old cinder blocks into the Rideau River where the embassy property backs onto the water, a move that has sparked anger and confusion about who is responsible for overseeing the area.
The large pile of crumbling blocks and construction debris is several metres wide, outside a chainlink fence protecting the embassy grounds. The pile covers a retaining wall by the river’s edge and slopes into the river.
An officer from the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority is to visit the embassy Saturday, but officials aren’t sure if they will be able to investigate the dumping, since international law dictates that the embassy grounds are “inviolable.”
“The Chinese Embassy, I expect, owns the land to the water’s edge, but they aren’t necessarily bound by Canadian laws,” said Jocelyn Chandler, a planner with the conservation authority, which is responsible for protecting the shoreline along the Rideau from damage and illicit dumping.
Calls to the Chinese Embassy were not returned Friday.
Normally, the conservation authority works with owners of property where damage has occurred to restore the shore to its original state. If that doesn’t happen, charges can be laid.
“Natural shorelines are best. Nature tends to take care of itself,” said Ms. Chandler.
Although the conservation authority has jurisdiction over alterations made to the shoreline, the organization does not have jurisdiction over the area below the “high water mark” – the water itself.
Determining who is responsible for debris dumped in the river is challenging.
Spokespeople for both the National Capital Commission and the City of Ottawa said the Rideau River is not in their jurisdiction. The federal Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which deals with foreign embassies, said debris in the river does not fall under its purview. Parks Canada said it only has jurisdiction over the Rideau River south of Hog’s Back Falls. That agency pointed to the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources, which pointed to the provincial Ministry of Environment. The Ministry of Environment mostly deals with contamination, and a spokesperson was unsure whether cinder blocks were pollutants, and recommended Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which suggested the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority is responsible.
When a conservation authority officer visits the scene, Ms. Chandler said she will determine whether the fish habitat has been disrupted, whether there is pollution, if the blocks interfere with the flow of the river and whether the blocks reduce the stability of the shoreline.
“People are fairly well educated and most people are aware of the regulations they are responsible for if they’re a waterfront owner,” said Ms. Chandler. “We don’t charge a lot of people, we spend a lot of time educating.”
Kevin Deevey noticed the growing pile of debris just outside the embassy’s barbed-wire fence when he kayaked by earlier this week.
“Changing the shoreline is a big issue,” said Mr. Deevey, who is an architect, standing near the mound of debris at the edge of Bordeleau Park. “There are a lot of regulations for working along the shoreline. Contractors get fined, and they’re not trivial fines.”
As he spoke, men with wheelbarrows came out of the embassy’s back gate and dumped more blocks on the pile, which had overtaken the retaining wall.
The cinder blocks appeared to come from a wall separating the embassy from the park. The structure had formerly been owned by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, who used the grounds as a convent.
Mr. Deevey said the cinder blocks appeared quite old and could contain fly ash and other dangerous chemicals.
“They’re not being very good citizens,” he said.
Although the river is not the city’s jurisdiction, a spokesman for the city said the bylaw services department would look into the situation if a citizen complained about property standards. As of Friday, no complaints had been made. In the event that happens, Barre Campbell said the city would have to check on the protocols involved in approaching an embassy.
“It’s not like you can knock on the door like it’s any other property,” Mr. Campbell said.
(C) Ottawa Citizen