Analysis: Council Preview, Fireworks By-Law

By John Swartz

Orillia council has a deputation on their March 25 agenda from the Canadian National Fireworks Association. It’s interesting how 6 days after a new by-law regulating fireworks in the City was last on the agenda February 12, a request for the deputation by an industry lobby group is made.

There is a motion much later in the agenda to approve a new by-law, and that is only because at the February meeting council did not make a decision and postponed it to Monday’s meetings.

Some back story is needed. On June 6, 2023 councillor Tim Lauer made an enquiry motion for staff to report about:

“The efficacy and logistical challenges with Chapter 938 of the City of Orillia Municipal Code – Noise concerning the detonation of fireworks in residential areas;

AND THAT the report investigates the safety concerns of the detonation of fireworks.”

The enquiry was made following the wildfire in Nova Scotia in May last year. It may have been instigated by an online conversation this writer  had with councillor Janet-Lynne Durnford about looking into what Orillia’s plan is should a wildfire develop in the townships which could threaten Orillia. In the north end it’s almost clear sailing treetop to treetop into the township. At the time I also mentioned it might be time to look into our fireworks restrictions and how that’s handled since there is someone in the next neighbourhood over who thinks any day is fireworks day and we were having a dry spell at the time. The same points were made to councillor Lauer.

There are many videos on Youtube of idiots using fireworks negligently and even as point and shoot devices – some even from Brampton. There does not seem to be a need for fireworks and most people have no idea of the dangerous ways they are being used.

That report came back to the January 29 meeting. It turns out the noise by-law does not allow for fireworks at any time. True to form, instead of reporting back on how to deal with cases of people using fireworks in the City contrary to by-law, staff recommended allowing them on specific dates (Canada Day, Victoria Day, New Year’s and other dates). In the report staff say the new by-law gives:

a slightly clearer framework in terms of when fireworks are permitted,”

which is odd, because not allowed at any time seems to be pretty clear.

Staff decided the noise by-law provision should be removed and a new by-law giving permissions was debated by council. This is exactly opposite of what was asked. Eventually council settled on a motion that reduced the number of permitted days to Canada Day, New Year’s Eve and Day, Diwali and the Lunar New Year.

Note: this is not in reference to public displays like we already have on Canada Day, but doing it yourself.

Councillor Lauer said he was in favour of banning them all together, but would like to see what happens in the next 12 months with a new by-law. Only councillor Ralph Cipolla spoke about the safety issue and is in favour of keeping the ban. The rest of the debate February 12 was about why not more or fewer dates.

Granted, the new by-law gives by-law officers more power to investigate and at the least charge residents $200 for the investigation, but since it’s already open season despite the current 24 hour/365 day ban, don’t hold your breath waiting to find out someone got charged.

The excuse for no enforcement now is the OPP is the enforcer of the noise by-law, not the City by-law officers, and the OPP does not put a priority on those calls and when they do go everything is over with by then.

In short, despite everyone knowing it’s going to happen, there is no plan to have deployment such that officers (OPP or by-law) can observe for themselves when and where fireworks are being used.

At February’s meeting councillor Whitney Smith was the only one who questioned the whole thing saying council has spent a lot of time on climate change issues and there they are talking about adding to the problem.

If the new by-law passes and things move from the OPP responding to by-law officers, who do people call? These things happen after hours and there needs to be a number that gets answered. This is not addressed in the report.

Enter the lobby group deputation. Of course they are characterizing the new by-law as a ban, when in fact it is allowing home-use of fireworks. They have stats saying the air pollution is much less than a number of other things we do and willingly putting harmful things into the air, even in small amounts, should be tolerated, negating fireworks is not on many people’s must do lists. Regarding safety they say those who object should accommodate by bring pets indoors and watching your children, which does not really solve the problem,

They have an education program, which is news, called Be A Good Neighbour. It’s usually not the case the user of fireworks is looking for a new home when things go wrong, it’s the neighbours. If one needs to be educated about the dangers of using fireworks, as easily found on Youtube, a lofty lobby group program won’t be of much help.

In short, the CNFA doesn’t want council to enact the by-law, which is fine, because if they don’t the 24 hour/365 day ban stays in effect.

This is not a frivolous matter, people get injured. In fact, councillor Cipolla spoke of an injury suffered last year. No one in Orillia has lost their home, or car, because someone was being stupid with a firework, yet. We can expect more dry spells, so if calamity strikes it may not be just one home that goes up in smoke. The push to build more multi-residential units, or packing as many homes tougher as in the West Ridge isn’t going to help either.

The best outcome would be to keep the bits about enforcement and the accompanying charges and fines (extra if fire trucks have to roll), come up with a plan for enforcement and keep the ban

Council meetings are open to the public or can be watched on the City’s Youtube channel.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)


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