Law society seeks injunction as Metrolinx begins cutting down trees at historic Osgoode Hall

The Law Society of Ontario says it is seeking an injunction to stop Metrolinx from cutting down trees on the grounds of Osgoode Hall, work that began on Saturday morning.

In an email, a spokesperson for the law society says that Metrolinx has advised it that tree removal could start as soon as Saturday. Workers could be seen removing the first limbs around 9:15 a.m. on Saturday.

Wynna Brown, spokesperson for the law society, said on Friday night its lawyers have filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and made a request for an urgent case conference meeting as soon as possible about construction work by Metrolinx at Osgoode Hall.

Located on Queen Street West downtown, Osgoode Hall houses the Ontario Court of Appeals, Superior Court of Justice and the Law Society of Ontario, which co-owns the property with the provincial government. The grounds include publicly accessible greenspace that is home to trees more than 200 years old.

Metrolinx previously identified at least five trees that it says need to be removed so it can carry out archeological work before building an entrance to a station on the new Ontario Line. The provincial transit agency initially put the plan on hold last November after strong resistance from local residents, the law society and Indigenous groups.

A sign is pictured near Osgoode Hall as Metrolinx begins the removal of centuries-old trees early Saturday morning.
A sign is pictured near Osgoode Hall as Metrolinx begins the removal of centuries-old trees early Saturday morning. (CBC)

In an email to CBC Toronto, Metrolinx did not confirm that it would begin cutting down trees on Saturday but did say it would proceed with work to support the archeological assessment “as soon as possible.”

“We have been engaging with communities on the project for over two years and can’t afford to delay getting this much-needed project built,” the email said.

Metrolinx also pointed to a third-party review, commissioned by the city, that looked at 10 possible options for the new station entrance and concluded that the Osgoode Hall site made the most sense for commuters.

Protesters demand that Metrolinx consult

A community vigil was held on Friday on the grounds of Osgoode Hall. About 40 people attended. The event drew business leaders, politicians and residents.

People sang, listened to speakers and demanded meaningful consultation from Metrolinx. The protesters said they were there to protect the trees that have seen more than 200 Toronto winters.

The protesters held signs that read “Speaking on behalf of the trees” and “I speak for the trees.”

A drone image of the trees at Osgoode Hall, which the Law Society of Ontario calls an important greenspace in the core of downtown Toronto. (CBC)

Metrolinx stands firm on line’s placement 

The province’s regional transit agency says the Ontario Line will see almost 400,000 passengers every day upon completion and reduce crowding on existing subway lines.

In a sudden community meeting Wednesday — the same day the third-party review was released —  director of community engagement for subways Darren Cooney told residents while Metrolinx agreed to await the results of the review, the decisions on the location of each Ontario Line station have already been made.

The agency says it will establish a construction liaison committee with local residents, business and employers who will be consulted when it develops restoration plans for the area.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said while he’s still “very concerned” with how construction will impact Osgoode Hall, the city’s options are limited.

“I understand from City staff this land has been expropriated by the province and Metrolinx has indicated they will not be seeking any permits or permissions from the city,” Tory wrote in a statement.

“I encourage Metrolinx to actually clearly and publicly communicate what they are doing, why there are doing it, and how they will make sure the grounds of Osgoode Hall are protected and restored when this work is done.” 

A community vigil was held on Friday on the grounds of Osgoode Hall. About 40 people attended. The event drew business leaders, politicians and residents. (Peter Turek/CBC)

Jonathan Rosenthal, a member of the law society’s board of directors, says the dispute is the latest example of the transit agency being short-sighted in its plans.

“Their activities, in my opinion, are nothing short of bullying,” said Rosenthal, who said he’s not speaking on behalf of the board, but as an independent citizen.

Community coalition bands together

Community resident Liz Driver says she found out about Metrolinx’s plans to proceed with their plan Thursday after she found the trees behind a construction fence, guarded by “masses of security personnel” with contractors preparing them for removal.

“It only takes a day or two to cut them down. Metrolinx could wait,” said Driver, the director and curator of the Campbell House Museum.

Driver helped launch the Build Ontario Line Differently (BOLD) Coalition as the interim director, a new group that describes itself as communities across Toronto “advocating for greater consultations and transparency from Metrolinx.”

She’s calling for Metrolinx to pause culling operations for at least a week to give time for city council and residents to consider the review. That review found an entrance at the Campbell House could be an alternative site to the greenspace at Osgoode Hall and could benefit from further analysis.

“It’s important to use every tool available to make Metrolinx come back to the table to consider all the options at this intersection — not the easiest option, not their preferred option, but the option that would be best for everybody for the next 100 years,” said Driver.

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