When Cities Are Laid to Waste

For anyone who knows and loves the City of Toronto, the G20 conference has been a disaster. But not all disasters are inevitable.

Kenneth Grant Crawford stated Canadian Municipal Government in 1954,

It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of the local government in the everyday life of the citizens, more especially for those who live in urban centres. That is not to say that one level of government is necessarily more important than another, for all perform functions which are essential to complete the probramme of governmental service demanded in a modern society. Yet few fully appreciate the vital part played by the local level of government…

Because many of the services of local government have been in operation throughout our lifetime, because its services have expanded gradually, nnoted by the citizen, and because those services function so efficiently, they are taken for granted as a natural condition of existence, like the air we breathe. When we turn on the tap, we assume we will get water; when we call the fire department, we expect a prompt response…and when we drive our car, we expect to find the road surface reasonably smooth and free from holes. It is only on those rare occasions when turning the switch produces no heat in the stove, when the street lights fail, or when the garbage collector neglects to call that we realize how essential to tolerable community living are the services of the local government and how bothersome is any failure in their functioning.

In the print-version of today’s Star, conspicuously absent from their website, Mayor Miller states that he found out about Regulation 233/10 by reading the Star on Thursday morning (“Miller says province broke rules over G20 arrests”). He wishes the Premier had “followed the rules” in enacting the regulation to alert the public properly.

At a press conference this past Thursday, he noted his suggestion to hold the conference on the CNE grounds were largely dismissed,

“I’m not going to use this podium to bash the federal government,” the Mayor continued. But he said that cities hosting similar events should have more of a voice in planning. Institutionally, he believes the federal government is set up to deal with the provinces, and is not used to negotiating directly with municipalities, even big ones.

“Right from the beginning, we need to be at the table,” he said. “That relationship has now been cemented so in the future, maybe there will be a true partnership between the national government and the city.”

There are only two levels of government under the Constitution Act, 1867, and municipalities are in the exclusive jurisdiction of the province:

Subjects of exclusive Provincial Legislation

92. In each Province the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say…

8. Municipal Institutions in the Province.

Justice Major emphasized this point at the SCC in Nanaimo (City) v. Rascal Trucking Ltd.,

31 …municipalities exercise a rather plenary set of legislative and executive powers, a role that closely mimics that of the provincial government from which they derive their existence. Yet, unlike provincial governments, municipalities do not have an independent constitutional status. (See Godbout v. Longueuil (City), 1997 CanLII 335 (S.C.C.), [1997] 3 S.C.R. 844, at para. 52, and the Constitution Act, 1867, ss. 92(8) and 92(16).) …Municipalities essentially represent delegated government.
[emphasis added]

As affirmed by the SCC in R. v. Sharma, the powers exercised by municipalities are limited to those conferred by the province in statute, and those implied by express powers essential to its declared purpose.

The purpose of municipalities is stated in the Municipalities Act,


2. Municipalities are created by the Province of Ontario to be responsible and accountable governments with respect to matters within their jurisdiction and each municipality is given powers and duties under this Act and many other Acts for the purpose of providing good government with respect to those matters.

Section 8 provides a grant of broad powers to enhance the ability of municipalities to respond to municipal issues. Part of the transfer of powers and ability to make by-laws include policing under the Police Services Act, which establishes responsibilities to municipalities under Part I,

Police services in municipalities

4. (1) Every municipality to which this subsection applies shall provide adequate and effective police services in accordance with its needs.
[emphasis added]

Presumably a municipality would be best informed to assess and execute the policing needs of their city, even in rather extraordinary circumstances like the G20. However, Justice Major also stated in Nanaimo,

32 …municipalities are political bodies… municipal councillors are elected to further a political platform. Neither experience nor proficiency in municipal law and municipal planning, while desirable, is required to be elected a councillor. Given the relatively broad range of issues that a municipality must address, it is unlikely that most councillors will develop such special expertise even over an extended time… council decisions are more often by-products of the local political milieu than a considered attempt to follow legal or institutional precedent. To a large extent council decisions are necessarily motivated by political considerations and not by an entirely impartial application of expertise.
[emphasis added]

Without belaboring again the mechanism through which Regulation 233/10 was enacted, is there a need to expand the scope of municipal powers for circumstances like this and give them formal constitutional status? A need for at least some greater deference or requirement to consider submissions from municipal authorities where civil insurrection is guaranteed to create local property damage?

This issue is explored further in an older paper by Erin Tolley and William R. Young of the Government of Canada in, Municipalities, the Constitution, and The Canadian Federal System. They state in their conclusion,

Although constitutional recognition remains a goal, municipalities seem to have adopted a more flexible and diverse approach to the current constitutional circumstances. Perhaps this is related, in some ways, to the federal and provincial governments’ relative reluctance to re-open constitutional negotiations. As such, municipalities have chosen instead to lobby the federal government for greater fiscal support, and the provincial governments for legislative changes to the provincial-municipal relationship. However, it is not likely that calls for constitutional recognition of municipalities and guarantees of fiscal security are going to die down in the near future. Indeed, given the increasing incidences of downloading and its effects on municipalities, as well as a growing awareness of the extent of urban problems, such as crime and homelessness, it is highly probable that these calls will crescendo. However, as the size of urban centres grows and the number of urban Canadians increases, it is possible that municipal concerns will receive greater attention.
[emphasis added]

The remoteness of the decisions by other governments, especially at the Federal level for a minority government that holds no seats in the City of Toronto proper, makes the interests and concerns of that political body that much more distant from the citizens of this city.

Perhaps the other way these calls will rise from a crescendo into a outright cry is if decisions made by the Federal government continue to lay waste to the streets of the cities. For the sake of those streets, let’s hope not.


  1. Without belabouring the point with the reasons why, the G20 occurred in Toronto only because the mayor and the city council didn’t tell the province and the feds “No” and, similarly, the province didn’t tell the feds no. There are any number of ways the municipal gov’t legally, or the prov. gov’t legally, could have made it impracticable for the G20 to take place downtown.

    The least of it are the policing and security issues.

    The only explanation for why they didn’t is the belief amongst all the levels that it in the long term it would be (1) a political and economic advantage (benefit) for Canada, for the province, for the city and (2) politically an advantage for those in power in each instance, that the G20 be held in downtown Toronto.

    Any plaints from Messers. Miller or McGuinty that the extent of the problems comes as surprise to them – implying that they didn’t anticipate the real possibility of what happened happening – are either disingenuous or are evidence of incompetence.

    Still, a mayor of Toronto (admitting that he was once a mayor of the city which was and still is below Vaughan) once called in the army to help clean up the snow in winter. At least the current mayor was better prepared. He didn’t need to call in the army.

  2. David,

    I’m certain that both the provincial and municipal governments were well aware of the vandalism that would occur. Which is why I’m less certain they recognized the benefits of hosting it here.

    What I would like to hear more about from you are the mechanisms the municipality could use to make it impracticable to host the G20 downtown, without the need for greater constitutional powers for municipalities. In fact, belaboring that point is the purpose of this post.

    Another alternative, and not one that I necessarily advocate, is one made by Hon. Bill Murdoch, who recently proposed that Toronto secede from Ontario and become its own province. A mayor of Toronto (or rather a city which was and still is below Vaughan) made similar comments during his disputes with Premier Harris.

    Lastman was not alone in musing about the need for Toronto to go it alone. Back in the 1970s, Paul Godfrey, when he was Metro chair, argued before the Royal Commission on Metropolitan Toronto that the region should have the range and flexibility of a province in its decision making. Urban thinker Jane Jacobs, who moved to Toronto from the United States, once said: “Cities, to thrive in the 21st century, must separate themselves politically from their surrounding areas.”

    Since Lastman touched off a firestorm with his secession suggestion back in the 1990s, Toronto has gained new powers from Queen’s Park under the new City of Toronto Act, bringing in new taxes including the vehicle registration tax and land transfer tax.

    It also reached an agreement with the province to begin gradually uploading some downloaded costs in coming year. It also has exercised some of its new enhanced powers including banning corporate and union donations in this year’s election campaign.

    But Murdoch’s motivations had more to do with giving rural Ontario more voice, rather than greater autonomy for Toronto. The upside would be that the proposed capital of the new Ontario would be London, where I went to law school.

    At Queen’s Park, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath dismissed Murdoch’s proposal.

    “Bill comes up with all kinds of interesting ideas from time to time, but my Ontario includes everybody,” Horwath told reporters.

    “It includes Toronto, it includes rural communities, it includes northern communities, it includes everybody,” she said.

    I agree, but still think more needs to be done to empower the local interests of the city.

  3. Omar,

    At its simplest, don’t issue the various permits (including liquor licensing) required for this sort of affair and don’t authorize involvement of any city personnel.

    If you don’t build it, they won’t come. The city didn’t have to build it. The province would have gone elsewhere if the city had said no.

    If you want to tilt at windmills, go ahead and ask Miller why he said yes. Or ask McGuinty. I assume they’ll give you what they each believe to be a responsive (enough), honest (enough), answer applicable to their individual position, assuming each feels he has any obligation to give you any answer.

    Beyond that, it’s a waste of my time looking up chapter and verse. It might not be for others but that’s not for me to say.

    I repeat: if the city hadn’t built it, they wouldn’t have come.


  4. Now I need to be very careful. There are defamation issues.

    We have to assume (1) that the appropiate people involved in the G20 are competent enough to have recognized the possibility of some level of “disturbance”, of illegal conduct, that would result in property damage and (2) decided that maximum level of damage that they considered realistically possible was acceptable, on a cost-benefit analysis. Whatever they considered to be the “cost” and the “benefit”.

    We cannot assume they were so incompetent as to not forsee the possibility of at least some damage TO OTHERS, from which it follows that they were prepared to accept the occurrence of some damage TO OTHERs as, shall we say, unavoidable “collateral damage”.

    That much ought to be self-evident. I’ve said enough.

  5. I understand your concerns.

    My take on it was that it would simply be politically imprudent to have global leaders arrive in Toronto, only to find that the province and municipality deliberately refused to allow permits or otherwise cooperate with a meeting of international significance. Once the decision was made, it was out of their hands.

    The G20 was initially scheduled to be held entirely in Huntsville. When the move to Toronto was announced, city councillors did object,

    The City of Toronto has asked Ottawa to relocate this summer’s G20 summit to prevent Canada’s biggest city from being “severely impacted” by the event, according to a Toronto councillor.

    In a letter to his constituents this week, Coun. Adam Vaughn warns the summit could cause “serious disruptions” to the city’s downtown core.

    “Summits such as this in Quebec City and Seattle have presented serious challenges to host cities. Anti-terrorism precautions, crowd control and the reality that these meetings usually draw large numbers of protesters, will mean that much of the ward will be severely impacted by security initiatives,” writes Vaughn, who represents Ward 20 in Toronto, where the summit is expected to be held.

    “I have received a ‘classified’ briefing so far. There will be serious disruptions. The security perimeter will be much larger than the area affected by the recent NFL games, and the protests are expected to be larger than last spring’s Tamil demonstrations.”

    These issues were not noted properly by Ottawa, or the “benefits” to them were greater than the “costs” to us in the city, as you put it.

    Either way, this was no surprise to anybody.

  6. Omar,

    You can say that “these issues were not noted properly” but that leaves unclear what you mean by “properly”. You have one definition of what that means. Those in power have another. Their defintion matters. Yours and mine doesn’t. That’s the reality. They took the precautions they thought were “proper”. It would be naive and wrong to assume that “these issues were not noted” by those with the power to take them into account. If you don’t make that assumption, you conclude they were noted, and the conclusion was that the precautions that were taken were all that was required.

    By the way, one would correctly say that it is inconsistent for people to concurrently complain about the denial of civil liberties, the extent the secured area creation and enforcement, the cost of policing and security, and that not enough was done legally to limit and contain problems outside the area.

    There was a solution. It has been used, in amongst other places, in Bejing. “Deport” the transients and perceived trouble makers. You can imagine the uproar there would have been if the PTB had attempted some sort of prior restrant of individuals who they perceived to be a continuing risk. Could it be said about some that: “Absent deportation from Canada or permanent incarceration, it appears [t]he[y] posed a continuing risk to do harm to persons with whom [t]he[y] had contact.” Likely. However, we’re still [in theory] a democracy.

    Oddly, my reCaptcha words are “the barbaric”. Coincidences abound, still: does anybody know if the reCaptcha program somehow picks up cues?


  7. David, I said not noted properly, or considered the cost worth it. I would love to see any Federal official state that they expected this outcome and decided to have the conference here regardless, and justify it as being properly noted. Not that it would lose them any seats in Toronto anyhow.

    No, there’s a reason why we live in Canada, and not China. We have appropriate balances in place, and alternatives were available, namely, not hosting it in downtown Toronto’s financial district (CNE, Huntsville, elsewhere).

    There’s nothing inconsistent in concurrently critiquing multiple elements of this situation.

    One of my previous careers before law was emergency management, where we use the following model:

    I used this for structure in my most recent publication in the area, as did other contributors to the text, because it is the standard protocol in the industry. Evaluating each element of this cycle and critiquing different components of execution is not inconsistent, but rather best practice.

    After a proper risk assessment the appropriate course of action is mitigation, or attempting to eliminate or minimize the risks through structural controls. Examples of this could include stores that were boarded up for small businesses, perhaps even the security fences for Bay Street towers. But the most appropriate mitigation strategy by the Federal government in this instance would be to reevaluate the choice of location.

    There’s no way to avoid responsibility from this extremely poor choice. The bigger problem is the inability of the provincial and municipal governments to contest the mistake. There hasn’t even been any assurances to date from Ottawa that funding will be provided for repair and reconstruction.

    n.b. reCaptcha uses scanned OCR text from archives, so it’s highly unlikely that there’s any relevance to the content of the page except for assumptions by the user (cum hoc ergo propter hoc)

  8. Omar –

    “There’s no way to avoid responsibility from this extremely poor choice.”

    Really? In what way? Politically? Morally? Legally?

    Morally? Maybe in the next life, if there is one, but that’s not for me to say.

    Legally? Perhaps you can convince Messrs. Waldman, Sack & Goldblatt to institute another public service class action, just like their last.

    Apart from that, your choices here are operational negligence or perhaps malfeasance in office. Assuming nobody (I don’t mean “nobody” in the Odysseus sense)was stupid enough to create a “Pinto” memo – let’s assume that even the RCMP and the CCIS aren’t that sloppy, though there’s room to wonder – you’re left only with operational negligence. If that’s the case, it’s at least possible that some bright-enough person in an appropriate legal department, having nothing to do in Ottawa one morning, accidentally read a recent SCC case and realized what a good defence a legal opinion could be for the gov’t, even if it was dead wrong.

    Politically? I hope you’re not holding your breath.