October 14th 2009
City Hall appears to be backing down on a draconian policy that requires organized walking groups to get a permit to stroll through city parks.
A city statement released late yesterday afternoon says Mayor David Miller has asked parks officials to review whether the policy should apply to groups who walk through parks as part of their exercise routine.
The review comes after a group of 12 Etobicoke seniors — first revealed in the Sunday Sun — were accosted by a bylaw officer on Sept. 21. That officer, Tony Pacheco, demanded to see their city permit for using the public trails in Humber Bay Park.
When they couldn’t produce a permit, pictures were snapped of the group.
He then followed them to the neighbouring Polish Alliance Hall — where the group participated in an hour-long exercise class — and took more pictures of vehicle licence plates.
“We are waiting the result of a review of this particular incident to ensure all steps can be taken to ensure the policy is interpreted and applied fairly,” says Stuart Green, speaking on behalf of the mayor.
Ward councillor Mark Grimes, who originally told the Sun the woman running the seniors group must have a $30 per hour permit, is now asking for the review as well, according to the statement.
While there may be “excellent reasons” for requiring some parks users to purchase a permit, Green acknowledged that “discretion and flexibility” must be exercised.
The little-known policy mandates those operating a commercial enterprise or business — such as yoga, fitness classes or boot camps — in parks obtain a permit. “This sounds like one such case where some flexibility could have been shown,” he said.
Brenda Patterson, general manager of parks and recreation, said about 83 permits have been issued for such activities taking place in 49 different parks. She said permits ensure that the business operator has proper insurance so the city won’t be sued.
Don Foster, a member of the seniors group in question, said yesterday city parks officials, the mayor and Grimes should have said “this is inappropriate” when they first learned about it. “That would have been the end of this,” he said.
Critics, meanwhile, yesterday charged the requirement for seniors to have a civic permit to walk in parks is a shakedown unique to Toronto.
“I have never heard of such a thing ever in Canada. Is someone sitting in a cubicle trying to find ways to upset people? I couldn’t think of a more hostile action to take,” said Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy with the Canadian Association of Retired Persons group.