Toronto's dogs in park strategy - Reject report and replace politicians and civil servants who authored it urges the Humane Society of Canada

dogsTORONTO, MAY 4/06 – At a special committee meeting today, The Humane Society of Canada is asking every resident of Toronto to contact their local Councillor with a clear message - reject the Dogs in Parks Strategy and replace the elected officials and civil servants who prepared the report with a new team that will engage in an open and honest series of public consultations right across the city.

“Over the past 35 years, our staff has dealt with all levels of government here in Canada and in over 95 countries. Rarely, have we seen such a fundamentally dishonest process and unrepentant arrogance on the part of elected officials and civil servants, as that we have experienced here in our own city,” said Michael O'Sullivan, Chairman & CEO of The Humane Society of Canada (HSC).

“For nearly two years, along with many others, we have tried without any success to obtain information on the Dogs in Park Strategy from politicians and civil servants. Tax weary citizens of Toronto are fed up with politicians and civil servants who believe they are accountable to no one for the discharge of their public trust. This is particularly alarming, considering that in the next municipal election, a change in provincial law will now permit Councillors to serve a 4 year term,” says O’Sullivan.

The animal charity says that it has been their experience that in areas where people are out actively walking their dogs, they not only clean up after their animals, but often pick up litter and other debris left behind on the beach. They also tend to discourage crime by acting as a neighbourhood watch. “Along with many other uses, walking your dog is a valid recreational use of our parks and beaches,” says O’Sullivan.

A copy of the animal charity’s concerns and response to City Council can be found here.

The organization is also demanding answers to a series of 24 questions, emphasizing that at a minimum, elected officials and civil servants must have had this kind of information at their fingertips before making such important public policy decisions and passing laws.

“For example, our letter to Deputy Mayor Bussin written nearly five months ago, on 9th December 2005, found here, expressing our concerns still goes unanswered. In meetings and telephone conversations with Ms. Sandy Straw who is the coordinator of the Dogs in Park Strategy, we have received evasive replies to our questions, including unfulfilled undertakings to provide us with information and unbelievable as it may seem, in one instance we were told by Ms. Straw she could not remember any specifics concerning what was contained in the report she was preparing,” reports O’Sullivan.

When asked, Mr. Brendan Agnew Iler, the Mayor’s Policy Advisor on Animals, told the animal charity that the reason there had not been a more open public consultation process was that the matter was judged to be too controversial.

The Humane Society of Canada is also promising that if politicians and civil servants refuse to turn over the research documents funded by taxpayers, that the group will file freedom of information requests and actively explore alternatives including a class action lawsuit to prevent the adoption of the laws contained in this report.

“The Dogs in the Park Strategy report also asks that the full authority to deal with these important issues of social concern be handed over to 44 elected officials and their civil servants to be dealt with in 44 different ways. In our view, this would be setting a dangerous precedent for dealing with these and other important issues, and rather than having citizens treated in a uniform equal fashion, would lead instead to prejudicial and fragmented treatment for taxpayers and local communities, and will affect local property values and businesses,” he says.

“In our view, elected officials and civil servants have misled the public, distorted information and subverted laws to achieve their own agendas. If they are prepared to do something like this in dealing with an issue like dogs in parks, why in the world would any clear thinking citizen of Toronto be willing to hand over even more authority, trust and tax dollars to any elected official or civil servant?” asks O’Sullivan.

CONTACT: Michael O'Sullivan by toll free 1-800-641-KIND or Michael on his cell phone (416) 876-9685 or at www.humanesociety.com via twitter at www.twitter.com/HSCanada and on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=56132698753

[For more than 17 years, Al Hickey was the Chief Executive of the BC SPCA and before that headed up the Alberta and BC Chambers of Commerce, and was the Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vancouver. He has been The HSC Western Regional Director for over 12 years. He has 4 children and 6 grandchildren. For his lifetime of achievement dedicated to helping people, animals and the environment, we have bestowed upon him our prestigious Heroes for Animals Award, shared by only a handful of people and organizations.

A father with two children, and a houseful of dogs and cats, Michael O'Sullivan has worked across Canada and in over 110 countries during the last 40 years helping people, animals and nature.]

The Humane Society of Canada (HSC) works to protect dogs, cats, horses, birds, rabbits and small animals, livestock, lab animals, wildlife and the environment. We carry out hands on programs to help animals and nature, mount rescue operations, expose cruelty through hard hitting undercover investigations, work to pass laws to protect animals, use a multidisciplinary approach, support animal shelters and wildlife rehabilitation centres, and spread the word about how to help animals and nature through humane education.

The only organization of its kind, seven days a week, The Humane Society of Canada (HSC) works across the street, across Canada and around the world helping people, animals and the environment.

The Humane Society of Canada (HSC) depends entirely on donations to support our programs to help animals and the environment. All donations are gratefully acknowledged with a receipt for income tax purposes. If you would like to support our educational campaigns that protect animals and the environment please make a donation here. Because when it comes to fighting cruelty and violence, we don’t give up. Ever.

 

  • In the past, there had been an attempt by Deputy Mayor Bussin’s office to work in conjunction with a local resident to have Toronto’s beaches declared as provincial parks so that a provincial law prohibiting dogs on beaches could be enforced. That measure was defeated only through a series of public consultations which The Humane Society of Canada helped organize.
  • In making reference to a prohibition of dogs on beaches, The Dogs in Park Strategy report contains references to the Blue Flag water quality environmental program and Chapter 608 of the Toronto Municipal Code. On 9th December 2005, The Humane Society of Canada also discussed the matter with Mr. David McCully, Executive Assistant to Deputy Mayor Bussin.
  • Based on the information the animal charity uncovered, in our view, the information for all of these sources is wilfully misleading for the following reasons. On 9th December 2005, Deputy Mayor Bussin’s staff advised us that the only way to secure the Blue Flag water quality designation and to encourage the improvement of water quality was to strictly prohibit dogs on beaches (even if they dogs were on a leash) and further that it was illegal to allow dogs to swim in the water. City staff for the region also told us that there had been no staff or public consultation.
  • (As a long time resident of the Beaches, O’Sullivan says that he can assure that the reason no local resident swims in the water is because of human caused pollution and the failure of elected officials and civil servants to take meaningful action to correct the problems).
  • Therefore, The Humane Society of Canada contacted the Blue Flag program on our own and spoke with their staff in Denmark last week. The group also spoke with their Canadian partner who worked directly with City of Toronto officials to enact the Blue Flag program and we have carefully reviewed the provisions of Chapter 608 of the Toronto Municipal Code (for your ease of reference this information has been included in the Appendices).
  • Once again The Humane Society of Canada found that along with the citizens of Toronto, they had been deliberately misled by elected officials and civil servants. The Blue Flag designation only requires that if there are national laws to prohibit dogs and other animals that they be enforced. Having such laws in place is not a requirement to secure a Blue Flag designation which can be found here. Further, in Canada, laws relating to the ownership of pets are a local responsibility and not a federal matter.
  • The Dogs in Park Strategy report also states that Chapter 608, Section 34 of the Toronto Municipal Code restricts dogs from going onto beaches at any time, unless in a leash free zone, and that is not in fact the case. A review of this section which can be found here indicates that dogs are not permitted on beaches or allowed to swim in the water, only if the area is posted to prohibit such an activity.
  • Our earlier example of attempting to misuse a provincial law, and this example to misuse a well respected international water quality program to achieve a completely different objective --- namely to restrict dogs on beaches even if on a leash and from swimming in the water – are just two more examples of how the citizens of Toronto have been deliberately misled by elected officials and civil servants.
  • The Dogs in Park Strategy report also indicates that elected officials and civil servants have conducted extensive research here in Canada and worldwide with respect to these issues. However, if we cannot trust elected officials and civil servants to engage in an honest and open public consultation and prevent them from subverting existing laws and programs to achieve their own agendas, then only a full and complete review of all of the data they collected can allow citizens of Toronto to trust that the information they have collected has not also been deliberately filtered and distorted.

The Humane Society of Canada is also asking to have the following questions be researched and answered by staff in writing; information that must have formed a part of their due diligence and expert consultations:

  1. Copies of all the relevant laws relating to the prohibition of animals in parks and beaches which were used to support your initiatives and how these laws came to your attention; and copies of all relevant laws that allow the authority for dealing with these issues to be handed down to local Councillors and their civil servants;
  2. How each Councillor will determine precisely the manner in which these mechanisms will work, who will enforce them, and to what body will citizens have to file an appeal if they are dissatisfied with the Councillor’s rulings?
  3. Who will pay for the cost of citizens who want to challenge the rulings of local Councillors?
  4. Who will be responsible for preparing regular reports and comparing the manner in which the same law is now being enforced by 44 different Councillors in 44 different ways?
  5. Since 6 out of 10 households have a pet, how will living in one area of the City where a Councillor is regarded as treating such families with dignity and respect affect the property values and local businesses when families are making a decision to move away from or into an area?
  6. Confirmation that depending on their original date of passage, that all of these laws have been brought into line with the Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
  7. A report from city legal staff that these laws and mechanisms are not illegal, thereby voiding the city’s liability insurance and exposing taxpayers to individual and class action lawsuits?
  8. Records of the scientific evidence you relied upon which found that banning dogs and their owners from beaches will enhance water quality and the costs associated with these measures;
  9. Records of all scientific studies and reports identifying commercial and household point sources of air, water and soil pollution and recommendations to improve water quality using methods other than banning dogs and their owners from beaches and the costs associated with these measures;
  10. Records of all scientific studies and reports identifying the amount of pollution from all sources caused by a single individual versus that caused by a single dog;
  11. Records of all correspondence from any person, government agency, corporation or entity relating specifically to your initiatives;
  12. Records and full information for the key contacts in each of those agencies named above so that we can speak with them directly;
  13. Records of all staff consultations that took place concerning your initiatives;
  14. Confirmation and an explanation as to why there was no public consultation on your initiatives throughout this lengthy and complex process;
  15. Clarification as to why you chose to begin specifically enforcing federal and provincial laws (in fact City Council and individual Councillors have a long track record of refusing to enforce mandates from other jurisdictions, and a case in point formed a major plank in Mayor Miller’s election campaign promises with respect to the federal government’s decision to build a bridge to the island airport);
  16. The number of warnings and the value of fines levied since the original passage of the laws used to support your initiatives; and the number of warnings and the value of fines levied since the announcement of your new initiatives;
  17. The number of warnings and the value of fines levied for violating other laws over the past five years that would include but not necessarily be limited to littering, consumption of alcoholic and illegal substances, noise, cycling on the boardwalk and so forth;
  18. If the report supports off leash areas on Toronto water reservoirs, why is this outlawed in the Beaches area at the R.C. Harris Filtration plant?
  19. How did you arrive at the figures for the increased costs of maintaining parks and beaches directly caused by those who have dogs?
  20. How much money does the city estimate it will collect from fining people who break the laws contained in this report?
  21. Why does the report indicate that while the two existing off leash areas in the Beaches are legal for the moment that they will be shut down in future?
  22. Despite statements from Ms. Sandy Straw that it was imperative to include The Humane Society of Canada in this process, why was our organization specifically excluded, and why is our neither our organization nor any other animal protection organization included as a part of the report’s proposed City-wide Dogs in Parks Team?
  23. If the elected officials and civil servants are truly concerned about dogs in parks, why have they consistently failed to support mandatory training programs for people and their dogs, low cost spaying and neutering initiatives, improve the adoption of animals and the return of lost animals, and reduce the number of animals killed each year in taxpayer funded city run animal shelters?
  24. Confirmation that you do not support and are not working towards the elimination of off leash areas and restrictions on the valid recreational use of parks and beaches by people and their dogs.