2017 Harvest

2017 Harvest

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Landowners found guilty of violating excessive fortification of land by-law through excessive surveillance equipment

In October, 2015, the Ontario Court of Justice released its decision in a case involving the fortification of property.  Many municipalities outlaw the excessive fortifying of property as it is often associated with gang or organized crime activity and may unduly intrude on the privacy of neighbours.  A husband and wife in Oshawa were charged with having applied "excessive protective elements to land", in this case video surveillance (8 cameras in front of the house, one to the south side, one on the fence at the northwest portion of the back yard and one affixed to a rear yard television antenna tower).  Various signs were also posted around the property, including one that read: "This private property & fence is enforced by video surveillance.  This is not a public thruway or thoroughfare.  Boundary line is 6" left of fence.  Resident has no permission or authority whatsoever to violate this boundary.  Persons entering this private sideyard on behalf of resident could be considered part of resident's continuance actions.  Also could be considered and served court subpoena as witnesses should action be decided or taken."

After several requests for entry to the house by a by-law officer were denied, the officer applied for and obtained a search warrant.  Inside the house, the officer observed live images from each of the 11 cameras, and determined that was possible for the antenna camera to be rotated 360 degrees and to provide a view well beyond the property of the defendants.  The officer determined that the video surveillance went well beyond "reasonable protection" that would not offend the by-law.

The defendants challenged the by-law charge first on the basis that the officer's search of their home was illegal.  Justice of the Peace Coopersmith disagreed - there was a valid search warrant.  She also disagreed with the defendants' arguments about the non-applicability of the by-law to private property:

Mr. L is prone to taking things out of context or simply does not understand the law or legal principles to which he refers.  Consequently, he draws his own unfounded conclusions.  For example, he failed to contextually understand the concept of a municipality as possessing powers of a “natural person” in exercising its authority.  He used parts of the Ontario Land Owners Association Report to ground his submission that “Fortification By-laws can only be implemented on “public properties” and not on private properties.”  I do not accept Mr. L’s submissions that fortification by-laws do not apply to private property, only to public lands. The definition of “Land” in Section 1.1(p) of Oshawa’s Fortification By-law 103-2005 does not distinguish between public and private lands.  Section 2.1 expressed the application of the By-law to all land within the City, unless it is expressly exempted by legislation.  Therefore, I find the L’s property at 1988 Walreg Drive in Oshawa is captured by the By-law’s definition of “Land”.

On the issue of what constitutes "reasonable protection", which is not prohibited by the by-law, Justice of the Peace Coopersmith said:
The term “reasonable protection” is not defined in the City’s By-law 103-2005.  Hence, applying a contextualized and plain meaning to these words, I am of the opinion that the words refer to adequate fortification that will afford the protection necessary to keep people and their property from theft or other criminal activity.  I accept that over the years the defendants experienced a break and enter into their dwelling and other incidents of vandalism to their property.  I do not find the meaning of “reasonable protection” to include protection from incidents or harassment of trivial importance, such as annoyed neighbours making faces and waving their middle fingers at the intrusive surveillance cameras aimed down the side of their home.  In a residential area, for example, the public interest in reasonable enjoyment of and privacy in one’s property is not served if excessive protective elements, such as video surveillance cameras capable of monitoring neighbours’ activities in their own homes and on their own yards, are present. 
The City’s Fortification By-Law 103-2005 serves to balance such public interest within residential neighbourhoods with the private interests of residents to protect their own property from theft or other criminal activity.  The By-Law suffices to allow people to protect themselves and their property from theft or other criminal activities, but it also limits the use of protective elements, such as video surveillance systems, to no more than is required for such protection.  In defining “Excessive Protective Elements” to capture visual surveillance equipment, including video cameras … capable of permitting either stationary or scanned viewing … beyond the perimeter of the Land”, Oshawa’s By-Law strikes a reasonable balance between private and public interests by affording its residents the right to monitor for theft or other criminal activity on their own respective properties, while serving the public interest of privacy and peaceful enjoyment by residents on properties in relatively close proximity to such video surveillance equipment.

The defendants were convicted of having violated the by-law.

Read the decision at: Oshawa (City) By-Law.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Natural Severance Case Being Appealed

In May, 2015, I wrote about a decision from the Superior Court of Justice in which a property was found to be severed naturally by a navigable watercourse - the Bear Creek (see Court Rules that Bear Creek was navigable in 1831).  The case is now under appeal by the Municipality and a hearing has been scheduled for February 4, 2016 in Courtroom 2 at the Court of Appeal (Osgoode Hall) in Toronto.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

GFO Appeal on Neonicotinoid Decision to be heard in March

According to the Grain Farmers of Ontario ("GFO"), its appeal of the decision rejecting its challenge of Ontario's new neonicotinoid regulations will be heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Toronto on March 9, 2016.

I commented on this case back in November, 2015: This challenge by GFO still strikes me as an attack on government policy, something in which the courts are loathe to interfere (as was noted by Justice Akhtar in his dismissal of the case).  GFO's news release doesn't provide any details about the "proper grounds" for the appeal(s).  We may need to wait until the appeals are heard (if they proceed) and decisions rendered to see what "proper grounds" are being advanced.

I still think GFO has a very steep hill to climb in challenging what is a policy decision of the Ontario government.  Generally, the Courts will not interfere in policy decisions of the government unless those policies were made without authority or violate some overriding constitutional or other right.  Courts will interfere where government enacts a policy but fails to follow it.  That's not likely the case here.