Metrolinx given go-ahead to cut down 200-year-old trees at Osgoode Hall

The injunction preventing Metrolinx from removing trees on Osgoode Hall property has ended after a two-day hearing decides in the transit agency’s favour. Mark McAllister reports.

Metrolinx has been given the go-ahead to cut down centuries-old trees on the site of Osgoode Hall once an interim injunction expires at midnight Friday.

Following a two-day hearing Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland dismissed the Law Society of Ontario’s attempt to prevent the provincial transit agency from removing a dozen mature trees, which it says is necessary as part of construction for the new Ontario Line.

“In the main matter of the Law Society versus Metrolinx, I find that I accept Metrolinx’s position as to the unavailability of the Ontario Heritage Act to assist the Law Society in this case,” said Justice Hackland. “I also feel that the balance of convenience is against enjoining the continuation of work on the Ontario Line.”

Justice Hackland said he would release his reasons for the decision in the next few days.

The Law Society of Ontario said it was “dissapointed” with the decision and “saddened for the irreparable impacts on this heritage site.”

“The Law Society supports improving mass transit, and while we are deeply disappointed with the outcome of the hearing, we remain committed to collaboration with all parties to lessen the impacts on Osgoode Hall and its grounds, as we move ahead with Ontario Line development,” LSO CEO Diana Miles said in a statement.

In a brief statement Metrolinx said it was pleased with the outcome of the case, adding work would resume to get the Ontario Line built “as soon as possible.”

Work crews arrived on site Saturday morning to start the process of removing the trees.

During Thursday’s proceedings, Metrolinx lawyer Sarit Batner strongly urged the court not to extend the injunction, noting that any further delay would impact both financial and project deadlines. She added the provincial transit agency has already committed to replacing trees removed at Osgoode Hall “at a ratio of three to one.”

“This is not about trees. This is about the Law Society not wanting a subway station on its land, but that train has left the station,” argued Batner.

“These trees are not old. They were replaced by the Law Society. They will be replaced again.”

The grounds and the heritage fencing currently on the site date back to the time of Confederation in 1867.

While attorneys for Metrolinx said the opportunity to challenge its plans surrounding work on the site was available in 2021 and 2022, the LSO claims Metrolinx was not transparent about its plans and repeatedly told the legal regulator that it would consider other sites.

The BOLD Community Coalition also released a statement Saturday afternoon after the Haudenosaunee Development Institute filed an injunction.

Metrolinx wasted no time laying waste to the ancient trees of Osgoode Hall this morning as day broke. Cutting has now been stopped as the Haudenosaunee Development Institute has filed an injunction over concern Indigenous rights holders have not been meaningfully consulted,” said the statement.

“Metrolinx claims the trees need to be cleared for archaeological work and to start construction of the Ontario line. The Haudenosaunee Development Institute days before that work begins proper consultation protocols must be followed and that Metrolinx has once again failed to meet expected standards of public engagement.”

The BOLD Community Coalition restated that both Metrolinx and the provincial government should “rethink their approach to building this much needed transit line and to engage in meaningful consultations with residents and the right holders involved.”

The choice for Metrolinx is clearcut. Engage in real consultation and change your tactics or expect more delays as the people of Toronto and all those impacted by the project fight you at every stop. This is about more than just the fate of the trees felled today. The call from a broad coalition of people in Toronto is simple: Build the Ontario Line Differently,” said BOLD Community Coalition in their statement.

Metrolinx said the decision to remove the trees was made after multiple other options were explored, adding a recent independent analysis commissioned by the City of Toronto supports their decision.

It says the southwest section of the Osgoode Hall grounds is the only space able to accommodate the “keyhole” — a construction shaft — which is needed for future excavation and construction.

Metrolinx adds it is working to protect as many mature trees as possible and has plans for beautifying and restoring the space after construction with new vegetation and landscaping.

Premier Doug Ford echoed those remarks, saying the province would plant ’10-fold’ the number of trees cut down by Metrolinx to accommodate the new Ontario Line.

“It’s all part of the infrastructure,” said Ford. “No matter where you go in the city at one time or another to build infrastructure, a tree may come down, but again we’ll plant many, many more for years to come.”

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