Monthly Archives: December 2012

Merry Christmas from Toronto–We’re Cutting your Garden and Sending you the Bill.

To those members of Council who celebrated the recent Street bylaw as a means of promoting more productive use of Toronto’s 11,200 km of boulevards, I have bad news.  This bylaw is being used to cut any plantings exceeding 8 inches in height…a restriction already deemed ludicrous by Ontario courts.  <Links to relevant staff members and Council are listed at the bottom of this post.>

My Miscreant Boulevard June 22, 2012

My Miscreant Boulevard June 22, 2012

My boulevard was planted with a variety of native species in 1996, at a time when the City was actively promoting such efforts.  It included several rare and endangered species, many of which did not recover following the City’s illegal cutting of my gardens in 2007.  City staff are now threatening to once again cut this recovering stretch of garden, “sometime over the next two weeks“…despite it successfully undergoing inspection by Toronto’s horticulturalist under the City’s natural garden exemption process on December 11, 2012.  Unable to immediately proceed under the original bylaw 489 (long grass & weeds) charge, the Executive Director of MLS passed the issue on to the

High Park Boulevard Bed -- impeding pedestrians?

High Park Boulevard Bed — impeding pedestrians?  Photo:  Sharon Lovett

Transportation Department’s newly enacted Streets bylaw….which purports to encourage the planting of “soft landscaping (vegetation such as sod, hedges, flower/fruit/vegetable gardens)”,  in order to harm at least the boulevard portion of native species.

Toronto's 2007 "remedial action"

Toronto’s 2007 “remedial action”

Toronto is already engaged in a lawsuit concerning their actions against this property yet despite warnings that such actions will increase any claims, staff continue to harass me based solely on their perceptions of garden aesthetics and in an effort to curtail my suggestions to Council that the budget of Toronto’s “garden police” be re-allocated to more crucial areas.

Tall Grass Traffic Island

Tall Grass Traffic Island

Safety is obviously not their concern as no efforts have been made to charge more substantial plantings on neighbouring properties that lack a demarcating sidewalk.  Moreover, my plantings in no way impede sight lines, unlike similar plantings created by Toronto on centre medians.

True, the plants are currently dormant, but their stalks and seed heads offer crucial food and shelter to overwintering wildlife.  Garden design is protected as a form of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and this, as well as the RIGHT to garden on boulevards, has been confirmed by the Courts in previous actions against Toronto.  Referring to a Justice Fairgrieve’s comments in his judgement against the City of Toronto in Bell vs Toronto:
“I think we have all become accustomed to accepting that not everyone shares the same tastes, and that differing practices are no less valid or tolerable simply because they deviate from the norm.”
“Having found that the by-law unjustifiably infringes the appellant’s freedom of expression guaranteed by s. 2(b) of the Charter, pursuant to s. 52(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, it is of no force or effect. In those circumstances, I do not think it is necessary to consider whether it also has the effect of breaching the appellant’s freedom of conscience guaranteed by s. 2(a).”  J. Fairgrieve, Bell v Toronto.  1996

Staff purported that recent amendments to bylaw 489 were intended to “preempt the unnecessary and unwarranted issuance of notices”, this is clearly not the case.

Sometime over the next two weeks, City staff will attempt to once again damage my small ecosystem.  I am asking your help to stop this injustice.

Staff have shrewdly timed this move during the holiday hiatus, and few Councillors are available, but I would still appreciate your sending letters and emails to them on my behalf and on behalf of all other miscreant Toronto gardeners who will continue to be threatened if we don’t draw a line in the soil now.

You may also wish to cc

  • Tracey Cook, Executive Director of Municipal Licensing and Services (controlling “natural garden exemptions”),
  • Bob Taylor Manager, Right-of-Way Management, Transportation Services, who is apparently amenable to cutting any boulevard garden exceeding 8 inches in height regardless of it posing a hazard.
  • John Livey, Deputy City Manager

With thanks,

Deborah Dale,
biologist; past-President North American Native Plant Society; former Recycling Coordinator/Solid Waste Specialist City of Scarborough; President Verdigrow Ltd.

Free Gardens, Leash Lawns

Dear Members of Toronto Council,

The proposal to waste more tax dollars to communicate to the public the rationale for charging a fee to individuals forced into defending private gardens, simply exemplifies the need for Council to insist on the re-examination of the original Council request – which was to find a way to preempt the unnecessary and unwarranted issuance of violation notices.

The $200 fee, while an outrageous violation of process, was never the primary issue.  The initial intrusion into personal choices was and remains the crux.   Unless there is clear evidence of health and safety concerns, there is no need for municipal staff to intrude onto private property.  Instead of staying within their mandated role of investigating safety concerns, the Licensing & Standards (MLS) Department have become self appointed garden aesthetics police – despite their admitted lack of qualifications for that role – wasting an enormous amount of staff time and City resources, unduly inflating the MLS  budget, and forcing residents of Toronto to take the City to court in order to defend their Charter-protected rights to work toward restoring the earth starting in their own yards.

Receiving a notice of violation is a tremendous cause of distress in and of itself.  In some cases, subject gardens remain under threat for over a year or are never notified that the case against them has been dismissed at the staff level.    In one notable case, an elderly woman having volunteered in City-sponsored restoration activities for decades and having purchased her garden plants from the City itself through the High Park native plant sales; received a Long Grass and Weeds complaint in February while the garden was dormant.  Please note, that as a dedicated native plant enthusiast, she had no lawn and therefore no turf grass tall or otherwise.  There was never any suggestion that she had any prohibited or hazardous plants, yet she was still put through months of anxiety as her tiny yards were inspected multiple times by staff of both the MLS and Parks Departments, before the issue was finally placed before Community Council for appeal — only after she had been forced to cut foliage which had dared to dangle over the edge of the sidewalk.   In most areas such vegetative dalliances would be considered charming, but in Toronto the possibility of pedestrians brushing against a flower is apparently a public hazard.

A “natural” garden of 200+ species of native plants cut to the ground without notice at the direction of Toronto’s MLS Department. Despite an ongoing lawsuit relating to that action, and the MLS department’s knowledge that it lacks turf and prohibited species, this garden is facing charges for a third time.

There are hundreds of additional instances where residents have been illegally forced by staff into making alterations to their private gardens based simply on staff preferences rather than any regulated defects or safety concerns. There are many others where staff has recommended against approval of a garden – despite it not having violated the bylaw – forcing the resident to proceed to Community Council rather than give up their right to choose how to manage their private property.  These champions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and of Toronto’s ecological health, will now be hit with a $200 fine upfront…which is in no way mitigated by the chance that an untrained Community Council will recognize, in the face of staff rebuttal, the violation of the resident’s rights and refund that fine.

In July 2012, Council quite rightly requested a method to preempt the issuance of such violation notices.  Staff responded with a supercilious proposal that entirely ignored that request and simply removed the issue from the view of the public and Council while increasing their control over private yards – again without any violations being proven.  The unnecessary and unwarranted stress on individual residents receiving these threatening notices remains.   The damage to the conservation garden movement remains.   The damage to City coffers increases.

Please re-open this issue.  Regardless of your personal preferences in gardening styles, recognize that the City’s rights over private property is limited to health and safety concerns and request that staff actions be limited to that area.  This will save Toronto multiple thousands of dollars in direct staff re-deployment and many thousands more indirectly as additional gardens are no longer discouraged from  absorbing storm water in situ, eliminating the use of municipally-treated water, reducing pollution, improving the environment, public health, and joining in all the other myriad benefits that radiate from creating more vibrant, sustainable, communities.

Wasted Chances

Neighbours do not have a right to impose their preferences on how others design their yards…especially when the choices made by those others are far more beneficial to the environment than lawn.  Nor should City forces be used as hired bullies to enforce conformity to out-dated standards.  Allow yards to become different, more creative, and yes, sometimes perhaps a little messy…it is far preferable than adhering to the status quo of miles upon kilometres of useless, wasteful, environmentally and socially harmful lawn.

Edible Arrangements – http://www.facebook.com/occupygardenstoronto

There are thousands of acres of private yards in Toronto that could, with a little encouragement, be put to productive use.  This was recognized in the Urban Agriculture Report recently received by Council.  This was recognized by Ontario Courts which examined cases against Toronto gardens under the light of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  This is recognized in Toronto’s Green Plan, in its Wet Weather Flow Master Plan, in the TRCA Healthy Yards program and countless other City initiatives.  When will the MLS department and Council recognize it?

A garden neglected by its owner and by MLS staff who failed to investigate it.

If staff cannot be trained to recognize the difference between neglected and “natural” and cannot be made to understand basic civil rights, their powers over private yards should be removed not increased.

 

 

Sincerely,

All those dedicated to restoring the health of planet earth