Monday, May 13, 2013

Why is tree climbing illegal in Toronto?

Last week a man was fined $365 for climbing a tree at Bellevue Park in Kensington Market. Could it be that tree-climbing is illegal in Toronto?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. Several bylaws prohibit climbing of various kinds within the city. This was a surprising discovery to me, as someone who has occasionally clambered up statues and done easy (only non-sketchy) ‘buildering’ just for fun. And who hasn’t climbed a tree?

Out of curiosity I looked up the applicable sections of our municipal code. Here’s what they have to say...

Climbing in parks (mostly) prohibited
City of Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 608 (Parks), section 6, established under BY-LAW No. 854-2004, states:
No person shall in a park: a) Climb a building, structure or equipment, unless it is equipment designed for climbing; [...] c) Unless authorized by permit, climb, move or remove the whole or any part of a tree, rock, boulder, rock face or remove soil, sand or wood.
Apparently you can’t climb stuff in Toronto parks! I wonder if it’s even possible to obtain a permit. It would be funny to apply to Toronto Parks for one and see what happens. Incidentally according to clause e) of this section, you can’t throw snow inside a park either. No snowball fights, kids—it’s illegal.

Climbing stuff in Yonge-Dundas Square prohibited
In Article III, 636-11 (Public Squares) from City of Toronto By-law No. 1001-2001:
No person shall, within the limits of a square: a) Climb or be on any, tree, roof of a building or any part of a building, structure or fixture, except any portion which is a public walkway.
This bylaw appears to specifically pertain to Yonge-Dundas Square [Minor note: this used to be Ch. 270, which was deleted by the above Bylaw] rather than all public squares. I find it mildly amusing that 'being' on a tree or building is impermissible as well.

Climbing street trees and posts prohibited
Under City of Toronto By-law No. 375-2012, Chapter 743-9, Fouling and obstructing streets:
... k) No person shall climb on or over a railing, bridge or fence located along or across any street, or climb on any tree located in a street, or on any post, pole or structure installed on any street.
Of course there are plausible reasons for bylaws like these. You don’t want people damaging trees, injuring themselves or others through dangerous behaviour, or messing up structures. Further, our municipal code is filled with historical cruft (though, in the case of the tree climbing clauses these are relatively recent updates).

It seems excessive. When you have so many obscure laws like this, it creates the potential for abuse by authority through arbitrary and discretionary enforcement.

And besides, if I fall out of a tree and break my arm—that’s my own fault. I don’t need a bylaw to tell me that. At least there seems to be room for climbing trees on private property.

Will I think twice the next time I look at a section of wall or a nice sculpture and say to myself, “I bet I could climb that!”? We’ll see...

Original photo credit: Tree Climbing by Alec Couros. Modified and used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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