Toronto, Ontario

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Toronto is the Ontario provincial capital and the most populous City in Canada.  It also boasts some of the most antiquated weed laws in North America.

To register your protest of the treatment of native plant gardens in Toronto, Ontario, please contact Toronto City Hall.

mail:  Toronto City Hall, 2nd Floor, 100 Queen Street West.  Toronto, Ontario M5H 2N2
phone:  416-397-CITY (2489)
fax:  416-696-3687

1996: Bell v. Toronto (City), [1996] O.J. No. 3146, 65 A.C.W.S. (3d) 502 (Ont. Ct. Prov. Div.) The plaintiff here brought a challenge under s. 2(b) when her naturalized garden was found to violate a city by-law because of its appearance. Here, the goals of the by-law were not found to be sufficiently important to justify overriding the plaintiff’s right to express her values and beliefs through her garden. It was noted, however, that had health hazards been identified as the rationale for the by-law that this would be considered as sufficiently pressing and substantial to justify interfering with her Charter rights.   www.law.ualberta.ca/centres/hli/userfiles/Shelley.pdf

Sandy's case was ruled citing the charter, but the legal team (including Murray Klippenstein and Simon Sheilds) subsequently met with the city's lawyers and after carefully reviewing the many styles of newer progressive bylaws in effect across North America, chose not to effect a permit style approach, but instead elected to write a new bylaw to be taken into effect which necessitated the inclusion by the gardener of a simple border to delineate and signal that the garden in question was intentional / intended as a 'natural garden.

August 21, 2007:  200+ species native garden of Deborah Dale was cut to the ground without warning by City staff.  Although the City protested that it had sent a registered letter, Canada Post records show that the letter was returned as unclaimed some 6 weeks before the cut.   The garden contained neither weeds nor tall grass and was not in violation of the bylaw.  A lawsuit is currently before the courts.

September 2008:  7 separate gardens  in the Toronto/East York district charged with being "natural".  Community Council members did ask for a staff report to clarify the situation, but none had been submitted as of January 12, 2010.

August 2009:  Mixed native/non-native Garden of Diane Way was charged with being "natural".  Again, the garden contained no weeds as defined under the Ontario Weed Act.  Of the 11 "invasive and undesirable" species listed in the staff report, none are specifically prohibited in Toronto:  2 were native, 1 does not occur in Ontario, and 5 do not generally reach the proscribed 8 inch height.  None were present in unusual quantities.  The City's botanist, charged with inspecting gardens requesting an exemption, concurred that the garden met the authorized standard.  Nonetheless, at their January 12, 2010 meeting, the Community Council essentially put the garden on probation until the fall of 2010....presumably to determine if goldenrod would be allowed to return.  Diane was invoiced for the cost of the unwanted and unwarranted garden inspections.

Cottage-style garden of Shari Lyn under threat

Beach area garden under threat because of the use of cotton easter as a groundcover on a steeply sloped front yard.

According to correspondence from Toronto Environment Director Lawson Oates .... some 3000 other gardens were placed in similar jeopardy last year.   The threat has moved well beyond those gardens that actual contain tall grass or noxious weeds, as defined under the Ontario Weed Act, to include virtually anything other than closely clipped lawns. Recent staff reports include "vegetation exceeding 20 cm" (8 inches), and have listed several native species such as nodding beggarticks and goldenrod as "invasive and undesirable".  In other words, a plant need not actually be a weed to be found in violation of the bylaw.

Incredibly, despite having a tree-protection bylaws, Toronto is now including trees near property lines under its FENCE bylaw 447.  In September 2009, a garden containing a variety of native trees and shrubs was charged with exceeding the 1.2 meter (@4ft) height limit for front yard fences.  In violation, several young cedar trees and a dogwood shrub.  As the nearest driveway was over 9 meters (30 ft) distant, there were no health or safety (sight line) violations...simply a disgruntled neighbour.   The Council ordered that the trees either be cut to 4ft or several removed.  Cedar trees are sometimes trimmed into hedges, but this does tend to dramatically shorten their lifespan and wildlife utility.  Cutting these trees in half would almost certainly kill them.  The intention of the property owner was to create a wind break and wildlife habitat.  Such practices are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Cedar trees ordered destroyed by Etobicoke Counci