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.

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