Municipality – Civil Contempt – Conditions
on Demolition Permits
The City of Toronto was found in contempt of an Ontario
Municipal Board order requiring the City to issue demolition
permits without conditions. The subject buildings remained vacant
in the High Park neighbourhood for the past five years while the
City refused to issue the permits. In May 2011, a fire broke out at
one of the vacant buildings. This decision is the latest in a
series of proceedings related to a proposed condominium
The applicants first applied for the demolition permits in 2006.
When the City failed to respond, the applicants appealed to the
Board in 2007. City Council voted in 2008 to refuse the permits
application and to impose conditions on the permits even if the
Board subsequently orders the permit issuance. In September 2009,
the Board released written decision ordering the City to issue the
permits and allowed the City six months to impose any conditions.
The City appealed the decision, which was upheld by the Divisional
Court in November 2010.
On February 24, 2011, the Board issued its final order requiring
the City to issue the permits. The City continued to refuse to
issue any permits until the applicants comply with certain
conditions. The City had not officially filed any conditions with
the Board at any time prior to the Board's final order in 2011.
In March 2011, the applicants filed the Board's final order as
an order of the Court then sought a declaration that the City was
in contempt of the order.
The City took the position that the conditions it sought to
impose had been identified by City Council in July 2008. It argued
that the Board's final order did not affect the July 2008
Council Decision to impose conditions. The applicants argued that
the Board's final order clearly directed the City to issue
demolition permits without conditions, and that the City's
refusal to issue the permits constitutes civil contempt.
Before addressing the contempt issue, the Court found no
legislative basis for the City to refuse issuing the permits as
directed by the Board. Nothing in the City of Toronto Act,
1991 (which was the applicable statute) allows the City to
override an order of the Board or of the Court.
The Court found the City in contempt of the Board's final
order as the three-part test for contempt had been established.
First, the Board's final order, filed as an order of the
Court, was clear and unequivocal that the City must issue the
permits without conditions. The Court found that the Board had
provided the six-month window to allow the City to impose the
conditions and the applicants an opportunity to raise any related
concerns. In issuing the final order, the Board had specifically
noted that the City did not identify any conditions within the
six-month time period of the decision.
Second, the City's disobedience of the order was voluntary
and deliberate. The Court noted that it was apparent from the
proceedings' history that the City had delayed its decision to
issue demolition permits and taken numerous routes of appeal.
Third, there was contempt beyond a reasonable doubt as the City
has continued to refuse the issuance.
Accordingly, the Court imposed a 30-day deadline for the City to
purge its contempt by issuing demolition permits without
conditions. Failure to purge the contempt would result in a penalty
of $75,000 and an additional $150 for each day that the City failed
to issue the permits.
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Russell v. Township of Georgian Bay provides a useful reminder of the fact that while municipal officials sometimes appear to hold all of the cards in disputes with home owners, that is not always the case.
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