City of Pickering Faces Accusation of Contempt - Alleged violation of Ontario Municipal Board Order prompts citizen enforcement action
(Note: "Protecting" "agricultural land" -- which is NOT the same as actively farming that land -- "in perpetuity" is the real shell game. The shoe seems to be pinching, now that it's on the other foot.)
June 7, 2005
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Toronto, Ontario, Canada /CNW/ - The City of Pickering has been named in a contempt application filed with the Ontario Municipal Board earlier today for releasing agricultural easements in the Duffins-Rouge Agricultural Preserve.
A coalition of environmental groups, ratepayers and individuals are seeking to enforce the 1999 Ontario Municipal Board Order (OMB Case Number PL980722) that created the easements.
About 800 hectares of prime agricultural land are affected by the violation of the Order.
Although the land continues to carry several restrictive land use designations -- including the Ontario government's new Greenbelt Plan measures and a Minister of Municipal Affairs Zoning Order -- none of the restrictions are permanent, whereas the easements are.
The groups have also asked the Ontario Municipal Board to review its decision and order the reinstatement of the easements, or to put the planning controls back in place that existed on the Duffins-Rouge Agricultural Preserve before the land was sold into private ownership.
"The City of Pickering needs to be told to stop playing an elaborate shell game with agricultural land and taxpayers' money," said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director, Environmental Defence.
Some signatories have complained to the Ontario government that Pickering's actions are a violation of the 1999 Agreement and that Pickering misrepresented its position at the time of the Ontario Municipal Board Order.
"The OMB was explicitly granted statutory authority to enforce its Orders to spare citizens the ordeal of having to go to court," said David Donnelly, legal counsel, Gilbert's LLP, representing the Green Door Alliance and Ms. Sandy Rider, two signatories to the 1999 Agreement. "Courts do not treat violations of administrative tribunals lightly and have found municipalities in contempt of Board Orders in the past. The evidence in this case should lead the Ontario Municipal Board to the same conclusion as the Parties to the Agreement."
"There is no way we would have signed the Agreement creating the agricultural easements if we had known Pickering would unilaterally release them to developers," said Brian Buckles, spokesperson for the Green Door Alliance, a signatory to the 1999 Agreement and a member organization of Ontario Nature.
"We have an iron-clad, written contract that commits Pickering to keeping these lands for agricultural uses in perpetuity. The Board's Order must be enforced for land use planning rules to have any integrity."
In late April, Ontario Nature commissioned a legal opinion prepared by David Estrin, Canada's senior environmental law specialist with the firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson, about the City of Pickering's termination of the easements. Estrin concluded that Pickering had no legal right to terminate the easements, which were meant to be held in perpetuity for the public's benefit.
The city's unilateral action without the consent of the other parties to the 1999 Agreement breaches its fiduciary duties to those parties and violates the Conservation Land Act, the Greenbelt Act, Pickering's Official Plan and Durham Region's Official Plan.
"The City of Pickering's actions not only threaten the protection of prime farmland and natural features in Durham Region, but also have provincial and national implications for the sanctity of conservation easements," said Linda Pim, Director of Conservation and Science at Ontario Nature.
"Many of Ontario Nature's 140 member organizations and land trusts across Ontario hold conservation easements. Ontario residents across the province have placed such easements on their own properties to protect their lands for the long term. If Pickering's actions were left unchallenged, we contend there could be serious repercussions for the future of conservation easements."
The groups also released a letter from Steve Parish, Mayor of Ajax, a current member of Durham Regional Council and Chair of the Region's Planning Committee in 1999.
In the letter, the Mayor advises the Green Door Alliance: "I can state unequivocally that Pickering has violated the Agreement and Board's Order by releasing the agricultural easements in the Preserve. Maintaining the agricultural easements on title in perpetuity is fundamental to the Agreement."
About Environmental Defence: Environmental Defence protects the environment and human health. We research. We educate. We go to court when we have to. All in order to ensure clean air, safe food and thriving ecosystems. Nationwide. http://www.environmentaldefence.ca
About Ontario Nature: Ontario Nature protects and restores nature through research, education and conservation action. It represents 25,000 members and 140 member groups across the province. http://www.ontarionature.org
For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact: Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, 416-323-9521 ext. 232, 647-280-9521 (cell); David Donnelly, Gilbert's LLP, 416-703-3236, 416-722-0220 (cell); Linda Pim, Ontario Nature, 416-444-8419, ext. 243, 416-312-0023 (cell).
Copyright 2005, CNW Group Ltd.