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City Acted Unfairly in Cancelling Park Permit

The City of Toronto Ombudsman says the City’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation division (PF&R) cancelled a permit to use an east-end park too quickly and without a fair process.

Susan Opler today released the report of Ombudsman Toronto’s investigation into how PF&R responded to neighbours’ complaints about a commercial sports program for young children in a local park.
“Toronto has more than 1500 parks, many of them jewels of City neighbourhoods,” says Opler. “They provide greenspace and recreational opportunities for families, groups and individuals. The City should clearly spell out the process it uses to handle park permits, which must be fair to all.”

Ombudsman Toronto looked at how PF&R approves permits for new uses of parks, handles complaints and decides to cancel or alter a permit.

“The City issues thousands of park permits each year,” says Opler, “mostly without any problem. But this is an important reminder of the need for administrative fairness and proper policies and processes for all kinds of decisions the City makes every day that affect the public.”
In this case, the investigation revealed that:

  • PF&R granted the permit without complete information about when and how the park would be used.
  • When neighbours complained, PF&R did not investigate and did not canvass or consider the perspectives of the company or program participants before it cancelled the permit and suggested another park.
  • PF&R’s Complaint Policy does not deal with complaints about park use. Staff were unaware of other policies that did exist, or disagreed on how they applied. 
  • There is no clear process for handling park permit violations.

“Had more been done to properly assess the permit application in the first place” says Opler, “complaints about the permit might never have occurred. In responding to the complaints, the City acted quickly, but did not follow a proper process.”

Ombudsman Toronto made eight recommendations to improve how PF&R issues and manages park permits, including:                                                          

  • the development of a clear process for assessing a permit application to use a park in a new way
  • the creation of rules for staff to use when considering whether to cancel or alter a park permit
  • giving affected parties the opportunity to be heard and reasons for the decision
  • staff training on all policies and processes that apply to their work including the need to keep records.

PF&R has accepted and agreed to implement all the report’s recommendations. Ombudsman Toronto will monitor their implementation.

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The full report and an office backgrounder can be viewed on the Ombudsman Toronto website. Copies of the report and/or the backgrounder are also available on request.
For more information or to arrange interviews, contact:

Alex DiGioseffo
Ombudsman Toronto
Office: 416-397-5435

Ombudsman Toronto listens to and investigates complaints and concerns about City Services. We are a free and impartial office that is independent of the City administration, holding it accountable to the people it serves.