A walk to remember for seniors

Still no answers for group confronted by city bylaw officer

October 15th 2009
Margaret Guthrie and Don Foster are part of a walking group who walk through Humber Bay Park for fitness. Recently they were stopped by a park official in West Humber Bay Park and told they needed a permit to use the park. Three weeks after being allegedly accosted by a city bylaw officer for taking a stroll in an Etobicoke park without a permit, Margaret Guthrie encountered regards of a very different kind whilst out for a walk this week – cheers of encouragement.

“Everyone who recognized us stopped and shouted ‘Good for you for standing up for yourselves,'” Guthrie, a 71-year-old cancer survivor, said of the positive response she and partner Don Foster have gotten from supporters since news of their plight created a media firestorm earlier this week.

Back on Sept. 21, Guthrie, Foster and 10 other seniors were just finishing up an hour-long walk through Humber Bay Park – a twice weekly warm-up to their fitness class at a nearby community centre – when a city bylaw officer confronted them.

“We were just leaving the park when this gentleman, and I use that term loosely, went and parked his big, white, City of Toronto truck right in front of us,” she said, noting that the officer then proceeded to demand the names of all 12 seniors in the group.

“We didn’t answer any of his questions because I know by now that you don’t answer those kinds of questions without a lawyer. He was very rude and quite aggressive…then he started taking pictures of us.”

Under the City’s Parks Municipal Code (Chapter 608), anyone who uses city parks for commercialized recreational purposes is required to pay the city for a $28.65 per hour permit. The bylaw officer requested to see theirs. The group doesn’t have one, so Guthrie said the group chose to ignore him and continue on – only to be followed all the way up to their exercise room at the Polish Hall.

There, unable to gather any of the participant’s names or information from hall administration, the officer went out to the parking lot and started taking pictures of their licence plates, Guthrie said.

“We were so incensed when we got home, we both got on our computers and started emailing,” she added, noting that, through their connections, the story got out to the media.

What followed was a week-long wave of criticism for the city’s handling of the situation, by both newspaper columnists and senior’s advocates.

Susan Eng, vice president of advocacy for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), called upon Mayor David Miller “to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that all Torontonians, but especially older residents, are welcome to walk in our parks without a licence.”

Eng, who recently raised the issue of an Age-Friendly Toronto with Miller, said she hoped the clash between Guthrie et al and the bylaw officer was not the norm in city dealings with seniors.