Dooming tens of thousands of birds, small mammals and amphibians to death
I have never sat on municipal council, nor have I ever been a politician of any stripe. But I have dealt with municipalities and politicians for decades, both vocationally and avocationally, and I understand the constraints of time, authority and money that bind them when making decisions.
Generally, I respect those decisions as long as they are well thought out and include consideration of public input. One example that comes to mind is the Township of Scugog, a small but forward-thinking community in rural Ontario that planned and built a leash-free dog park in the recent past.
The municipality reached out to the community and listened when told there were environmental concerns with their original plan and part of the proposed location. As a result, the municipality modified the plan and developed a functional and environmentally friendly park that residents and their pets could enjoy while still respecting wildlife that shared the space. Good for them!
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Flash forward to 2022, and the City of Toronto proposed a leash bylaw for cats.
Before it even came to council for debate, the mayor publicly declared that he didn’t support it. That was irresponsible on his part, in my opinion, as he is imposing his opinion as the senior politician of the city, which could and would influence some councillors.
On the night it was to be discussed, council decided to take it off the agenda and deferred a decision to an unspecified time in the future. The reason was unclear, but it seems that the mayor (at least) and perhaps council didn’t want to create a bylaw that they weren’t sure could be enforced.
This may sound reasonable, but the reality is that most bylaws are opportunistically enforced – speeding, noise, open burning, litter, etc. There are a finite number of bylaw officers, so one cannot expect that every instance of an infraction of every bylaw would be investigated and/or prosecuted. More realistically, bylaw officers would only follow up on a complaint basis or when serious harm has occurred due to non-compliance. This appears to be the case in many municipalities.
What Toronto didn’t factor in was that many people will obey a bylaw even if it is not enforced. Had they created the bylaw, many people would simply have brought their cats indoors and/or leashed them. Many people will resist compliance, but most of us are law-abiding and will try.
What the city also did not consider was the harm that cats cause to wildlife. When asked about a peer-reviewed scientific study that showed the devastating impacts of cats, it cited a rebuttal to that that said many things impact birds and wildlife, including cats, so implementing it would not necessarily protect birds.
Wow! How narrow-minded is that? So, because a lot of things affect climate, let’s ignore them all as we can’t decide the impact each influence has. That’s the gist of their response. Had the City of Toronto simply implemented the bylaw, tens of thousands of birds, small mammals and amphibians would be protected in Toronto alone.
I guess what was even more disappointing is that I wrote directly to the City of Toronto Clerk before the bylaw was to come up for debate and immediately after it was deferred. In neither case did the city even acknowledge my submission. Do they care that little for public opinion?
The city didn’t have time for THIS bylaw but did you know Toronto has a bylaw that states one can only have two garage sales a year, and each cannot exceed two days? Really? Reportedly they have other bylaws about swearing, tree climbing, pinball machines and hauling dead horses through the streets. Well, I wonder how they enforce the dead horse one.
To use the excuse of bylaw officer numbers as a justification for or against a bylaw is a cop-out. So let’s encourage and support our councils but also remind them that our voice needs to be heard and heeded when our message has relevance.
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook.
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