Mayor urges flexibility in seniors park spat

October 14th 2009

It was a beautiful day in Humber Bay Park. The seniors group had just finished an hour-long walk along the water, a regular event organized to warm them up before a twice-weekly fitness class at a nearby community hall.

They didn’t get far before the bylaw officer’s truck appeared.

“We were just leaving the park to go back to the hall and (the city worker) parked his car right in our path,” said Margaret Guthrie, 71, describing the Sept. 21 encounter. “He totally obstructed our pathway.”

According to Guthrie he also took photographs of the group and followed them.

The city maintains that taking photos and information is normal if a bylaw violation is suspected.

The problem here? There is a fee for classes held in the park.

Guthrie, with partner Don Foster, takes a fitness class Mondays and Wednesdays at the Polish Alliance Hall on Lake Shore Blvd. W. If the weather is good, some of the group warms up in the park.

Under Municipal Code Chapter 608, Parks, anyone who holds events for profit such as a yoga class or boot camp in a park must pay the city $28.65 an hour (plus GST). Violating the bylaw means a ticket and potentially a $250 fine.

In a statement, Mayor David Miller said parks staff will review the matter and that this case sounds like one where “some flexibility could have been shown.” Organizer Anne Wheatley said she uses the park only occasionally, and the group walks through. Wheatley said the same worker approached her in a different park last year, causing her to relocate.

“Parks are put there for the public and they are denying them the use of it,” she said.

Advocacy groups for seniors agree.

Last night Susan Eng, vice-president for advocacy with CARP, wrote to Mayor David Miller, asking the city to “take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that all Torontonians, but especially older residents, are welcome to walk in parks without a licence.”

Guthrie said, the worker told Wheatley she needed a permit, then asked for her name and phone number.

When no information was offered, the man pulled out a camera.

“He was snapping pictures left right and centre, and people started getting nervous,” Guthrie said.

They left, and the man followed in his truck. He entered the hall and tried again to get Wheatley’s information, then according to Guthrie took photos of people’s licence plates.

Andy Koropeski, director of parks, said area residents have complained about classes being held in the park, which is why bylaw officers were in the area. “People are thinking there are fees charged to seniors walking in the park. The issue is dealing with those who rely on commercial enterprises that use the public space,” he said.

He said the issue was being investigated, and Wheatley has not been issued a ticket.

Guthrie said they have since emailed “everyone and their uncle,” including the mayor and Councillor Mark Grimes (Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore). They got an email from Grimes’ office that suggested Wheatley might be charged, said Guthrie.