Metrolinx can go ahead and chop down trees at Osgoode Hall, Judges Rules
Metrolinx will be able to move forward with plans to cut down trees on the Osgoode Hall property in downtown Toronto after a restraining order expires at 12:01 p.m. Saturday morning.
Judge Charles Hackland of the Ontario Superior Court has dismissed a request for another injunction from the Law Society of Ontario.
Lawyers representing the province’s transit agency presented their arguments in a virtual courtroom on Friday, a day after lawyers from the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) filed their submissions.
Metrolinx’s attorneys argued the agency had made extensive announcements of its plans, consulted with the bar and the community at large, and considered many factors, including the legacy impact of removing trees on the Osgoode Hall site.
“The time for further consultations is over, Your Honor, it’s been two and a half years, we have a contract,” said Sarit Batner, a member of the legal team representing Metrolinx.
“The train has left the station, so to speak.”
The Osgoode Hall site is jointly owned by the Bar and the Province and is now Metrolinx. On Thursday, Bar Association lawyers argued that having a historic site with three owners is rare and that the value and impact of heritage cannot be divided along property lines but must be viewed as a whole.
Last week, the Society wrote to the Toronto City Council asking them to direct Metrolinx not to operate under the Ontario Heritage Act. However, Metrolinx attorneys said the city doesn’t have jurisdiction because the heritage designation applies only to the land owned by the bar and not to Metrolinx’s lands.
Batner said the idea that the site is indivisible from a heritage perspective is an “interesting line of thought” but legally irrelevant.
Another Metrolinx attorney, Byron Shaw, said a misinterpretation of the Heritage Act was the “house of cards that the LSO’s entire case is built on.”
Judge Hackland said he accepts Metrolinx’s position.
‘Not in my garden’
Metrolinx’s lawyers also dismissed the suggestion that the agency should further explore the feasibility of an adjacent site at Campbell House Museum for the new tube station.
Batner noted that there are several issues with the Campbell House location, including that transit riders would have to transfer between subway lines by exiting the station and walking outdoors across University Avenue, causing both safety and comfort concerns.
She said that even if that site were chosen, the necessary building work would still involve the same trees at Osgoode Hall, and that Campbell House also has its own historical value.
“Not in my backyard, Your Honor. Nobody wants legacy to impact, nobody wants the subway in their place,” Batner said.
Hackland also denied another request for an injunction from the Haudenosaunee Development Institute.
In a statement Friday night, Metrolinx said it was happy with the decision and would resume work to build the Ontario Line as soon as possible.
“Ontario Line alone will carry nearly 400,000 passengers each day, reducing congestion on existing subway lines and creating nearly 50,000 additional jobs within a short walking distance. Passengers cannot afford any further delays,” Metrolinx said.
However, the Toronto BOLD Community Coalition, which is campaigning for more consultation and transparency on Metrolinx, expressed disappointment.
“This week’s lawsuits have exposed Metrolinx’s dishonorable conduct towards the Bar Association, local communities and indigenous peoples,” the coalition said.
“Metrolinx has a clear choice: they can either work together more meaningfully and change their approach to consulting, or continue to face fights and delays.”
The coalition said it “fully supports” new transit projects but is planning “next steps” to hold Metrolinx accountable.
“We believe it is critical to build these projects in a manner that is inclusive, recognizes specific concerns, and minimizes short-term disruption to the very communities this project is intended to serve.”