Law Society of Ontario files court application to stop Metrolinx from axing trees at Osgoode Hall
Green fabric is tied around trees at Osgoode Hall in Toronto on Friday February 3, 2023. The Law Society of Ontario says it will seek an injunction to stop Metrolinx from cutting down the 200+ year old trees on the grounds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Published Friday, February 3, 2023 9:19PM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 3, 2023 9:54PM EST
The Law Society of Ontario (LSO) has filed an application with the Superior Court of Justice seeking to stop Metrolinx from axing trees at Osgoode Hall.
A spokesperson for LSO confirmed the filing to CP24 on Friday evening, saying the group's counsel has also requested an urgent case conference meeting to discuss the issue.
There are reports that Metrolinx could begin cutting down five old trees on the grounds of the downtown landmark, which houses the law society and the highest courts of the province, as early as this weekend.
It is part of the work being done at the University Avenue and Queen Street West location, which is the future site of the Ontario Line's Osgoode Station. It is one of the 15 stops in the planned 15.6-kilometre subway line, which will run from Exhibition Place to the Ontario Science Centre.
The trees are being removed to make way for an archeological assessment of the site before construction begins. It was initially slated to be done last December, but following pushback, Metrolinx postponed the work.
On Friday afternoon, several people gathered at Osgoode Hall to protest the planned chopping down of the trees.
In a statement on Friday, Mayor John Tory said he remains concerned about how construction will impact the landmark. He said a third-party report of the site, which was commissioned by the city, had been completed and sent to Metrolinx this week.
"I met with Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster on Wednesday and reiterated the need for Metrolinx to work with the community and take a sensitive path forward, knowing we all want new transit to get built. I stressed to Mr. Verster that the report's conclusions do not represent a 'blank cheque' when it comes to neighbourhoods, to heritage and to trees, though the city's options on this provincially-owned site are limited," Tory said.
"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."
He noted that the land had been expropriated by the province, and Metrolinx has indicated that it will not be seeking permits from the City. Tory added that a construction liaison committee had asked for an additional meeting before any work is done but said Metrolinx "seems determined to proceed."
Osgoode Hall 'most suitable option': report
Parsons Corporation, a U.S.-based infrastructure engineering firm, conducted the review of potential locations for Osgoode Station. It examined 10 areas around Queen Street West and University Avenue.
They include Osgoode Hall, Osgoode Plaza, the Canada Life Building, the Bank of Canada building, the Four Seasons Centre, and the Campbell House.
According to the report’s findings, Osgoode Hall “would appear to be the most suitable option” for the station “as it provides sufficient at-ground pedestrian and traffic flow at the critical westbound streetcar stop, with a workable design for both the keyhole excavation site and the vertical circulation needed to connect the existing (TTC) Line 1 concourse level with that of the Ontario Line.”
Furthermore, the report stated that while there are operational concerns at Osgoode Hall, “none of the other location options reviewed here have proven themselves as being suitable for the development of a station design that meets the full set of criteria.”
It did suggest, however, that Metrolinx look into a design for the Campbell House site because it is a “potentially feasible alternate location.”
In a statement, Ward 10 Councillor Ausma Malik urged the transit agency to consider the downtown museum an option for the station. She said the curator/director of Campbell House had asked for a two-week reprieve for the Osgoode trees while the option is being examined by the city.
Malik added that she had written to the Metrolinx CEO, asking him to grant the request.
“Following the city’s release of the third-party review of potential locations for Osgoode Hall, it is clear that Metrolinx has made their decision well in advance of receiving the city’s advice or hearing community concerns despite their public statements to the contrary,” Malik said.
“We are all here ready to work constructively on solutions to have transit built well. We are calling on Metrolinx to work collaboratively with the city and our community stakeholders to find solutions that work for all, and get this important project done.”
In a statement, Metrolinx maintained that it has been engaging with communities for the past two years, including 17 meetings with LSO, and said that it “can’t afford to delay getting this much-needed project built.”
The Crown agency cited the findings of the city’s third-party review, saying that the location brought the most benefit to commuters with the least downside.
Metrolinx did not confirm if the removal of trees will be done this weekend.
“Metrolinx only removes trees that are absolutely necessary,” the Crown agency said. “We will plant three or more trees for every one tree removed for the Ontario Line project.”
- with files from Chris Fox