Éric Dussault could never have imagined how the deer of Michel-Chartrand Park would impact his life.
When he reached out to authorities in late 2020 offering to relocate the deer population, the general manager of Sauvetage Animal Rescue thought at the time that his contribution would be primarily logistical in nature.
Trailers, tranquilizer guns, nets, veterinary partners… he continues to argue that his organization is equipped to carry out such a mission and save the animals from slaughter.
“I was naive enough to believe that there were already protocols and plans in place for a relocation operation, and that I would be there in a supporting role,” he recalled. “I quickly came to realize that nothing was prepared and that all the responsibility for creating this plan rested squarely on my shoulders.”
Thus began a highly-publicized political and judicial saga for this father of three children, three dogs and three cats. How it all ends will be decided when a Superior Court of Quebec judge renders their final decision. The fate of the deer notwithstanding, the lawsuit against the city of Longueuil – initiated with Goldwater, Dubé – has sparked a profound debate over our shared responsibility as humans towards other sentient beings whose territory is constantly shrinking under the pressure of urban development.
“I see a great opportunity, as a society, to change old mentalities,” said Dussault. “It’s time to move beyond the convenience of cruelty and learn to live in harmony with animals.”
The idea of an intervention being “complicated” has never once deterred Dussault, who completed multiple training courses in saving human lives (rope work, ice rescues, etc.), on top of having a background in security. He decided to commit his skills to helping animals the day he realized that there was no one else in Quebec doing what he does.
In 2010, Dussault founded the first version of what would eventually become Sauvetage Animal Rescue, a non-profit organization that depends mainly on contributions from its members and supporters. He coordinates and supervises rescue operations with the help of an almost entirely female team of volunteers in the field.
Quebecers have become well acquainted with his dedicated and passionate team, especially since appearing on TVA’s Sauvetage Animal series. In one episode, we follow them evacuating a beaver trapped between rapids, roaming the woods to find a lost dog and even helping koalas in Australia.
The Dorval Bear Tragedy
The organization also offers patrol services for municipalities or businesses but by law are not allowed to come in contact with certain wild species, such as deer or coyotes, without a special permit.
The government, however, lacks specialized agents on the ground – as was witnessed in Dorval when, in 2021, a bear appeared in the streets. That day, Dussault was among the first people on the scene.
“Our ladders were used to fetch the bear from the tree, our poles were used to stabilize him. It was our staff who cushioned his fall and guided him to his cage,” he recalled. “Not the three wildlife officers who were present. Certainly not on their own.”
Yet despite the operation’s success, provincial authorities took the animal away and killed it far from the view of the public.
Me Anne-France Goldwater stressed that it is “difficult to reconcile the supposed protective role of the Ministry and this constant desire to kill any animal that crosses our path.”
The Case for a Humane Approach in Longueuil
As for the deer, the City of Longueuil has changed its position several times since the saga began. At the end of 2020, the municipality abandoned a proposed slaughter. Advised by veterinary experts, Dussault drew up a proposal to instead capture and transport the animals to protected sites.
But then in February 2021, a government-appointed committee refused to issue a certificat de bon soin, making it impossible to obtain the required provincial permit. (According to Me Goldwater, no university would issue such a permit outside the context of an internal research project, making it an impossible requirement to fulfil.) Last November, the newly elected Mayor of Longueuil announced plans to euthanize no less than 70 animals. She has since changed her mind (for the worse) and now wants to kill 108 deer by way of a crossbow hunt.
It was with the intention to prevent senseless tragedy that Goldwater, Dubé, Sauvetage Animal Rescue and a private citizen launched a legal challenge in 2022. With Me Goldwater, Dussault had found an unwavering partner; someone who shares his outspokenness and commitment to humane solutions that respect animals as sentient beings.
“We greatly admire Eric’s principles and commitment to animals in distress,” said Me Goldwater. “Especially the white-tailed deer of Michel-Chartrand Park, these historic residents of Longueuil who — in a more civilized world — would be entitled to at least a fraction of their ancestral lands”.
Despite his frustration, Dussault knows that several other mayors are closely following the case in Longueuil. Beyond the heated debate and online mockery, animal welfare causes are finally gaining ground and that gives him cause to feel hopeful.
“Speak well, speak ill… just so long as we keep that conversation going,” he concluded.
Photo: Sauvetage Animal Rescue