West Annex residents barely had time to heave a collective sigh of relief following the announcement of the indefinite deferral of Royal St. George’s College’s controversial expansions plans when another threat to peace in the neighbourhood emerged.
In a meeting dominated by off-leash dog advocates at the RSGC chapel on March 1, 2008, local Councillor Adam Vaughan was repeatedly attacked over the process by which the pilot project in Sibelius Square — which permitted off-leash dog hours — was terminated effective January 1, 2008.
Vowing to appeal the decision, members of the Annex Dog Owners (“ADO”) also set their sights on turning a portion of the southern section of St. Alban’s Square into an off-leash dog zone.
Organized by the Annex Residents’ Association but not widely advertised to local residents, the meeting, called to form a working group to consider off-leash dog issues in the Annex, quickly degenerated into acrimony.
ADO organizer Gillian Morton, a professional dog walker and Kendal Avenue resident, dominated the meeting, repeatedly taking the floor to attack Vaughan over the Sibelius process.
Albany Avenue resident Fred Freedman, who like Morton has been a member of the Sibelius Square Working Group, countered that the termination of Sibelius off-leash dog privileges came as a result of an extensive community consultation and a public meeting which was widely advertised and well attended. “It was one of the most highly democratic meetings I have ever attended” said Freedman. “This community expressed its will and it has said that while dogs on leashes are always welcome, there isn’t a place for off-leash dogs in our small inner-city parks.” He added “there are other pressing issues affecting our parks. When can we move on and deal with them?”
Morton conceded in a later interview that she was the key organizer of the May 15, 2007 public meeting at which off-leash privileges were terminated in Sibelius Square by a consensus of those in attendance. But, she said, the meeting was “essentially unfair”; the permanent elimination of off-leash hours had not been on the agenda, and many dog owners had therefore not attended. “Vaughan’s pre-emptive decision cut short the community debate” she said.
At the March 1, 2008 meeting, Morton provided a list of conditions under which her group would participate in another working group process. She insisted that the group be chaired by an Annex dog owner who exercised his or her dog off-leash, and whose mandate was to establish where, not if an off-leash dog area would be established in the Annex.
With few in the neighbourhood even aware the meeting was taking place, a motion to accept Morton’s conditions for the working group easily passed with minor amendments, notwithstanding Councillor Vaughan earlier caution that “I have an obligation to represent the community, not just working groups that choose to constitute themselves, especially if they aren’t constituted fairly.”
The ADO showed little interest in Councillor Vaughan’s news of the cash infusion into the City’s Parks Acquisition Fund, which has been specifically created to convert vacant or underused land to park space, nor in his suggestion that the Howland fire station, the Green P lot behind Dooney’s, and the parking lot north of Spadina subway station all be explored for conversion to an off-leash dog park. Instead, Morton expressed the preference that the off-leash area be established “organically, where dogs and their owners already naturally congregate.” Morton later said “I don’t believe in ghettoizing dog owners in small, unused or undeveloped pieces of land.”
Information about the Annex Residents’ Association Off-leash Dog Working Group: firstname.lastname@example.org
City of Toronto People, Dogs and Parks Strategy: http://www.toronto.ca/parks/dogs.htm
List of local & legal off-leash dog areas: annexnation.blogspot.com/2008/02/dogs-off-leash.html
Annex Dog Owners: 416-964-1915 or Gillian.email@example.com
Councillor Adam Vaughan: firstname.lastname@example.org