Fireworks spark fires leaving five distinct burns areas where birds are nesting in Toronto park

The following information is provided by Angela Salewsky, director of Lakeshore Planning Council Corp. and member of the Etobicoke Fireworks Remediation Committee.

Attached is a copy of a letter to Toronto City Council, which includes links to video footage.

We are a group of Ward 3 residents who joined together in the early summer of 2020 to address the year-round issue of fireworks in our community and to promote their safe use.

Here is a link to our Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ward3efrc/about

Last year our group created a petition, https://you.leadnow.ca/petitions/fireworks-sensibility-for-toronto , which we presented to Councillor Grimes and two of his executives in a Zoom meeting.

He presented our petition to Council, and the City of Toronto has since conducted an online survey asking the public for their thoughts on the use/abuse of fireworks.

The survey confirmed South Etobicoke specifically is experiencing an on-going fireworks issue. We also met with the community liaison officer from Toronto Police – 22 Division, ML&S (by-law) and Toronto Fire, via Zoom.

Last year there was a program in place that helped in decreasing the number of overnight fireworks. This year, that program was derailed over the Victoria Day weekend. As you may be aware, 5 grass fires were ignited in the Swallow nesting area of Colonel Sam Smith Park as a result of fireworks. Thankfully the fire department was quick to respond.

Hundreds also gathered at Humber Bay, exploding a continuous barrage of fireworks into Humber Bay Park until past 3:00 am. All our resources were diverted to the East End and we were left on our own.

BlogTO wrote a piece about the destruction in Sam Smith Park and CBC Toronto did a segment for the 6:00 pm news, for which I was interviewed:

A home for nesting birds in a Toronto park has been destroyed by fireworks (blogto.com)

CBC Toronto News May 27, 2021 | CBC.ca

Segment starts at 33:40

Also, attached is our open letter to city council and John Tory regarding the events. It contains good background information on our efforts to date, as well as links to video footage, photos, and members’ expressions of alarm and horror on our Facebook page about the fireworks mayhem that occured over that weekend. The footage speaks for itself.

In an effort to protect our neighbourhoods, our parks, and the wildlife that live there, we are having a meeting Wednesday evening to discuss next steps and to plan a couple of awareness raising and educational events. If anyone is interested, please contact me.

Thank you!

Angela Salewsky

Open letter to city council

Dear City of Toronto Councillors and Mayor John Tory,

This past Victoria Day weekend was a public space management catastrophe. There is no over stating that havoc and risk to persons and animals that occurred in several neighbourhoods within Toronto this May 21-24.

As BlogTO documented with Victoria Day video footage from the east end of the city, fireworks were being shot dangerously into crowds, across residential streets, and under cars within parking lots, leaving debris, threatening wildlife, and testing the patience of a great many residents near parks in Woodbine, Withrow, Riverdale, and Davisville.

In the west end, at Colonel Samuel Smith, Humber Bay East and West, Humber River, and Sunnyside Beach, our experience was equally disturbing. As you can see from the video and images attached, those attending were decidedly uncivil and the City’s complete lack of response was alarming.

In a meeting of the Economic and Community Development Committee on April 27th, we directly identified to you how fireworks violations, in direct and undisputable contravention of by-laws, were escalating at an alarming rate threatening our peace and well-being without any response from the City.

We identified several impacts including frequent interruption of our peace between 11 pm and 3 am, of the harm to individuals with PTSD, autism, anxiety, and other mental health issues, of harm to nesting wildlife and the well-being of our pets, of the pollution to our parks and waters, and the impact on livability in our neighbourhoods of the general sense of lawlessness that was increasing.

After listening to our petitions, you assured us that you were going to respond to our growing concerns about the escalation of fireworks in public parks before the Victoria Day weekend.

We waited to see how you could effectively address this problem. We met with Municipal Licensing and Standards staff who advised us that the City’s ability to respond to fireworks complaints was limited.

The promised signage turned out to be COVID19-related messaging, not the specific “fireworks prohibited” signs we had expected. We experienced no reduction in frequency of fireworks being discharged in the subsequent period. Then on the May 24th weekend, absolute mayhem occurred over a four-day period.

We are not resorting to hyperbole. If any of you were in our parks on any of those evenings, you would be witness to fireworks beginning no later than 9:00 pm from multiple locations so as to create a seemingly continuous bombastic discharge without pause for several hours and, though less frequent by this point, most loudly between 2:30 and 4:00 am. Many were set within 20- to 30-feet of condominium buildings.

Fireworks discharged in Colonel Samuel Smith Park sparked fires leaving five distinct burns areas in the grasses home to nesting swallows, a designated Environmentally Significant Area (several media outlets have reported on this).

A woman sitting in a public space on Marine Parade Dr. fled for her safety. Traffic was getting blocked on Waterfront Dr. that would have made access difficult for emergency vehicles. Boxes were found among the debris indicating that some of these (rated ‘very loud’) fireworks were designed to shoot 40 to 60 metres (130 – 190’) high.

These are not the relatively safe packages families bought in the ‘70s.

This was absolute chaos and we are, to be blunt, furious.

Keeping track of this onslaught — well more than a hundred separate incidents each night — was beyond our ability, but the comments the community residents posted to social media were overwhelmingly alarmed, distraught, distressed, and angry. To help demonstrate what we experienced, please see Appendix A for a small sample of social media comments, Appendix B for links to videos and photos posted on the Facebook page for Etobicoke Fireworks Remediation Committee.

Our conclusion, after consideration of all that has occurred, is that the suggested response to our petition offered by the City is wholly inadequate. It cannot provide by-law enforcement (whether for illegal use of fireworks in parks, noise infractions, debris left behind, dangerous discharge, or destruction of sensitive habitat).

It does not have bylaw officer availability either in sufficient number or available after 11 pm. Police are not showing up, and we have been informed that prevention of illegal firework use is not the responsibility of our fire departments.

We are concerned that the reported involvement of a professional lobbyist hired by the Canadian National Fireworks Association in response to our petition (Fireworks Sensibility and Sensitivity for Toronto, submitted on our behalf by Councillor Mark Grimes, October 2020) may have diluted the City’s response to the point of being ineffective.

Issues concerning public and wildlife trauma are being dismissed while the non-interventionist aim of the fireworks industry is covered with platitudes and impotent promises. We need an assurance this issue will be prioritized and responded to effectively.

Accordingly, we request:

– An emergency debate be brought before Council to ensure that our concerns are prioritized before any more serious injury occurs. This issue is time-sensitive due to the approaching holiday on July 1st.

– An immediate ban on the sale of fireworks to the public in the city of Toronto until this issue is confidently resolved (i.e., that the City has implemented policies sufficient to enforce its existing bylaws). We understand that fireworks will be purchased outside the city and brought in. Consequently, we request the City engage in discussion with adjacent municipal governments to engage their cooperation, however that should not be a pre-requisite for action by the City.

– In addition to permanent signs in all public parks, we request special measures be taken before holidays to ensure that the public be alerted not to bring fireworks into parks, and that all vehicle traffic/parking is permanently prohibited within any park after 11:00 pm.

– Overnight police patrol of all major parks, with a mandate to stop all park visitors from bringing fireworks to the park and to charge anyone lighting fireworks in the park with Mischief, Section 430 (1) of the Criminal Code.

– A city-wide education campaign be adopted, informing the public not just of the existing by laws and the plan to bring mischief charges to those who ignore the City’s directive, but also of the impact of fireworks on residents, pets, and wildlife.

– We request the Mayor speak publicly on this issue before the July 1st holiday. Last weekend proved that this is not an isolated incident, it is occurring in many areas across the city.

– A review be ordered of parks now requiring Environmentally Sensitive Area designation. Due to nesting in Humber Bay Park, we believe that it should be recognized, just as Colonel Samuel Smith Park has been. And policies to ensure the protection of these sensitive habitats be reviewed and updated.

– The City to commit to adopt noiseless fireworks for its own functions in 2022.

Please do not minimize this as a COVID issue. Recklessness with fireworks has been occurring more frequently in Toronto for several years. And unless the City works diligently now to change this emerging problem, our already stressed Police and Fire Services will be forced to divert more and more resources to these situations, and 311 will be flooded with calls it cannot reasonably respond to.

Measures need go well beyond posting a few signs, as the damage to sensitive nesting areas in Colonel Samuel Smith Park demonstrated. It is time for unambiguous messaging, personnel on the ground during periods of risk, and an overall major commitment from the City to get this under control with new limits to fireworks sales and criminal charges for those who choose to ignore the needs of residents, pets, and wildlife, and willfully damage sensitive habitats.
Thank you for hearing our concerns,

Citizens Concerned about the Future of Etobicoke Waterfront (CCFEW)
Etobicoke Fireworks Remediation Committee (EFRC)
Friends of Humber Bay Park (FOHBP)
Friends of Sam Smith Park (FOSS)

CC: Nature Canada Media CC: CBC Toronto
Park People CP24
Toronto Field Naturalists CTV News
Toronto Ornithological Club Global News
South Etobicoke News
Toronto.com

Appendix A:

Sample of comments from community residents’ during and following the fireworks in public parks, May 21-24, 2021. (source – Facebook, Etobicoke Fireworks Remediation Committee)

• “This is what is constantly going off every 5-10 minutes since 9:30pm. Not hidden deep in one of the parks rather just off a busy street in plain sight.”

• “Outside my building ppl were setting off fireworks that looked like they would come right through our windows the last three nights.”

• “I can’t imagine how stressful this weekend must have been for individuals who suffer from PTSD.”

• “Wildlife and our pets! They also suffer!”

• “At what point do we hold these companies and vendors accountable? It’s their products that are being used to destroy our waterfront.”

• “Don’t know if this little birdie’s death was the result of last night?”

• “Multiple groups setting them off at the same time; it sounds like a war zone. And it just isn’t stopping, it’s been going in for hours.”

• “Three fire engines here at the parking lot of Samuel Smith Park. Apparently there was a firework related fire.”

• “I was out sitting on the rocks out front of the Firkin by myself enjoying some fresh air. The next thing I know I’m jumping off the rocks taking cover because someone decided it was funny to improperly set off a whole box of fireworks at once. They were flying everywhere! They were exploding right in front of us. This poor woman beside me injured herself trying to get out of the way by jumping off the rocks. Just as we collected ourselves it happened again on the other side of the park! It was chaos.”

• “This is beyond ridiculous. This was in the butterfly sanctuary. They were actually shooting fireworks at people on the street and towards the buildings.”

• “Hey, I was just woken up by fireworks at 4:45 am. Fun times!”

• “Fireworks have been going off for over 3 hours at Sand Beach Road beach … Ugh.“

• “Sounds like a war zone up here at Islington and The Queensway. These are what sound like commercial grade fireworks, going off in a neighbourhood!”

• “Guys this is insane! There are at least three groups of people setting of fireworks near this point. They just set them off at ground level and you can see the crowds running!

• “No enforcement anywhere.

Appendix B:

Sample of (links to) videos and photos taken by residents during and following the fireworks in public parks, May 21-24, 2021. (source – Facebook, Etobicoke Fireworks Remediation Committee)

VIDEOS

Inside the Butterfly Habitat:

https://www.facebook.com/655616048/videos/10158971564531049/

On Marine Parade Dr.:

https://www.facebook.com/507924580/videos/10159475065834581/

https://www.facebook.com/kristineb82/videos/10158635426847144

https://www.facebook.com/523005045/videos/g.989784241458093/10165367908015046

In Prince of Wales Park:

https://www.facebook.com/100008172258816/videos/2917897255159321/

PHOTOS

In Colonel Samuel Smith Park:

https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10102399012297820&set=g.989784241458093

https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10102398682369000&set=pcb.1215970972172751

https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10102398766540320&set=gm.1216006795502502

In Humber Bay Shores Park:

https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10102399016399600&set=g.989784241458093

https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=4276221649076125&set=pcb.2804077496570190

On Sunnyside Beach:

https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10103692862412129&set=g.989784241458093

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