Biology would like to believe that it has long since transcended politics and history. But what is the notion of an “invasive species” if not a repulsive echo of the fetid 19th-century obsession with origins and racial purity? But in the midst of the vitriolic public debate over the PQ’s proposed Charter of Quebec Values, it was hard not to notice the putrid parallels between the way some of the so-called “Friends of the Mountain” talked about the threat to native plants posed by invasive species AND the way people like Mathieu Bock-Côté and Bernard Drainville talked about the threat to our delicate Québécois culture posed by new immigrants, especially those who happened to be Muslims.
How can you look at a beautiful burdock bush (Arctium lappa) on the sunny slopes of Mount Royal—covered with bees and butterflies, feeding entire colonies of winged insects—and decide that it doesn’t belong here because it happens to be a relatively recent immigrant to our island paradise from a place we still strangely refer to as The Old World? How can you look at this gorgeous flowering plant—which has become an integral part of the mountain’s ecosystem—and decide that it needs to be ripped up from its roots and burned, so that “native species” might flourish? How absurd this is! And how sad that so-called “Friends of the Mountain” participate in this disgusting ritual—a ritual which is, in fact, the botanical equivalent of ethnic cleansing.
We are all immigrants. We are all invasive species. And, for that very reason, we need to get past this silly, outdated conception of pristine, untouched and unchanging, virginal nature, and learn how to intelligently differentiate between “invasive species” (like burdock and dandelion) that enrich the ecosystems they join, and “invasive species” (like English ivy and the cane toad) which impoverish the ecosystems they join. Clearly some “invasive species” are problematic, but so’s the notion that they’re all evil just because they’re not “native”.
It’s important to remember that the theory of evolution was developed by a man, Charles Darwin, who was studying the way life works on tropical islands. We should bear in mind, as well, that life doesn’t behave the same way in colder regions and deserts (where the elements are your primary threat, not other living organisms), or on continents like North America (long exposed to fierce competition). Our notion of nature as pristine and untouched and fragile is largely an artifact of how and where the theory of evolution emerged: on fragile, pristine, untouched islands. What’s true for the islands of the Galapagos isn’t necessarily true for the island of Montreal.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)