Residents of an upscale Ottawa neighbourhood have been spiriting unwanted squirrels across a river into Quebec province and dumping them there, a local newspaper said Tuesday.

The practice is illegal but an Ottawa Citizen reporter who spoke to several residents of the Westboro neighborhood discovered it has been going on for decades.

Daniel Sylvester told the daily that his neighbour has been secretly trapping squirrels and driving them across a one-kilometer bridge over the Ottawa River to Gatineau, Quebec.

He said he confronted the neighbour about what he thought was a raccoon trap, and was told that he was in fact targeting squirrels that were sneaking into area homes and causing havoc. "He said, 'No, I'm trying to catch them all and bring them to Quebec because they can't cross the bridge.'"

Relocated squirrels are believed to return to their habitat unless they are taken across a lake or river.

Ontario law prohibits moving wildlife more than one kilometer, in order to prevent the spread of animal diseases.

Moving is stressful for anyone, but doubly so for these animals, as they are likely to be met in Quebec by angry squirrels defending their turf.

When asked about it, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources was quoted by the Citizen as saying: "Are they French-speaking squirrels?" Quebec is mostly French-speaking while Ontario is largely Anglophone.

Ministry spokeswoman Jolanta Kowalski told AFP that enforcement officials are now "aware of the situation."