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Heritage Trees and Collective Rights

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

Another giant bur oak has died today,  and a second is at grave risk.

231 Keyworth : Excavation at this site has damaged a healthy old growth bur oak 1.11 metres in diametre. This is a pre-confederation giant (ca. 1855) with genes going back to the time of the last ice age. This is an incredibly important genetic resource in a time of climate change, seen as nothing more than a nuisance by the property owner. The tailings from the excavation contain considerable amounts of root, some of which are large. Plans to add a second story to the building will also result in the loss of a large part of the crown. It seems likely that the property owner will be charged and taken to court, but the amount of the fine remains to be seen.


See this 231 Keyworth video for the full scope of the tree.

251 Carleton Avenue: Damage to this tree is so extensive it has become a hazard and will soon be taken down. The situation violates on two dimensions. First, the tree is on a neighbour’s property, and has been destroyed. Has that property owner been advised of his/her right to sue under Provincial legislation? Second, the Committee of Adjustment and the Champlain Park Community Association approved the application for significant variances in setbacks with explicit conditions from Forestry Services regarding protection of the tree–conditions that have not been honoured. The owner is likely to face a fine, although the amount remains to be seen.


The Urban Tree Conservation By-law, which applies to both of these trees, formally allows for fines as high as $100,000. Why wouldn’t significant fines, similar to what it routinely levied for a City-owned tree, be applied in these cases? Both the property owner and the excavators should be charged, as has been attempted by the City in the past.

I believe that the only way builders and other property owners and excavators will pay attention to conservation requirements is if the fines are significant and the City shows resolve in pursuing these matters. 

We need two things immediately from the City, demands I invite you to make through city councillors. First, a report on the issuing of tree permits. It is my understanding that Forestry Services has not reported to Council on the Urban Tree Conservation By-law since 2011. I think we need to know the numbers: how many permits have been denied, how many issued, how many not required for damage that later led to tree removal, etc.?  If not measured, it doesn’t count.

Second, what is the status of plans to correct the unforgivable gap between building permitting and tree permitting processes? Building permits are issued without due attention to the impacts on trees, and then used to justify issuing a tree permit (because a building permit exists!). This circular logic drives the disastrous outcomes, and leaves Forestry Services perpetually behind the eight ball. I cannot think of any possible excuse for continuing to allow this gap to go on unaddressed. 

For those of us living in the neighbourhood it feels like a deeply personal violation of collective rights to a forest canopy protected by law, but not enforced. --Daniel Buckles

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