Town hall meeting hears police have limited powers to deal with unsanctioned celebration events in local parks

A Neighbourhood Town Hall meeting on events taking place in Dentonia Park has held by Toronto police's 55 Division earlier this week. Photo by Alan Shackleton.

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Toronto police’s 55 Division held a Neighbourhood Town Hall meeting for residents in the Taylor-Massey and Blake-Jones areas after complaints of loud noise during unpermitted street events.

The two-hour meeting took place on Monday, May 15, at Access Point on the Danforth (3079 Danforth Ave.) at 6 p.m. and was attended by senior 55 Division police officers Supt. Kim O’Toole and Insp. David Correa, as well as a representative from City of Toronto Municipal Licencing and Standards (MLS), and parking officials.

Residents and business owners discussed issues they have had in the Dentonia Park area regarding past events such as International Mother Language Day and Eid al-Fitr, and how to avoid the same issues during upcoming celebrations like Pakistan Independence Day (Aug. 4) and Eid ul Adha which is expected to fall on Wednesday, June 28.

The major issues residents and business owners had were about noise levels during work nights and those celebrating parking on people’s lawns with impunity. Community members also called for more disciplinary action against illegal uses of fireworks, drivers screeching their tires, and passengers hanging from windows of moving cars.

However, police at the meeting said that there is only so much an already stretched police division, which covers one of the largest areas in the city, can do during unpermitted events that have no registered organizer that they can contact.

“I would much prefer every event to be permitted and with restrictions, protocol, and a person responsible because if things go sideways, we can then go to that person,” said O’Toole.

Officers said that one of the purposes of the May 15 meeting was to “foster some leadership” for the events that take place in the future, although  police said they were well aware that not many people would want to take on such responsibility.

Residents, on the other hand, complained that even the permitted events are problematic.

A woman at the meeting asked why a noise exemption permit was given for International Mother language Day (Feb 20-21) which had a timeslot that goes beyond the normal bylaw limits for such gatherings.

“I don’t mind day-time gatherings,” she said. “But you can’t have celebrations at 2:30 in the morning, in a residential area, when people have to work at 5 a.m. It’s not the Entertainment District.”

In response, Ronny Chowdhury, one of the organizers for International Mother Language Day, explained the cultural significance of celebrating the event at later hours of the day, an explanation that was well received by some.

Chowdhury said that there are complaints every year but organizers are doing everything they can to mitigate the noise in the area.

“Next year, we will do our best not to disrupt the neighbourhood,” he said.

Those at the meeting discovered that the police’s ability to prevent or efficiently chaperone such events is quite limited as without information about when a gathering will happen, they are unable to properly allocate officers for the events.

“There’s a risk assessment that every event undergoes to determine the level of staffing,” said Correa. “When we deal with unsanctioned, unpermitted events, it gets much more complicated.”

Officers explained that communications between 55 Division and the event permit division are limited with only about less than 10 per cent of the 474 permitted events last year being presented to them for consultation.

To make policing of such events even more complex, although the bylaws prohibit sound amplifiers such as oversized speakers in public spaces, officers are unable to take them down or confiscate such private property once it has been set up.

However, O’Toole assured those attending the meeting that the Toronto Police Service will begin to “take a much more significant stance” on bylaw offences at these events moving forward.

She also said that they will be taking a much stronger position against the illegal use of fireworks in public spaces.

Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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