Your Lawn, Our Health: In Upholding Hudson's No-Spray By-Law, the Supreme Court of Canada Has Advanced Environmental Rights into the Previously Inaccessible Territory of Private Property. (Stir It Up)

By Perks, Gord | Alternatives Journal, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Your Lawn, Our Health: In Upholding Hudson's No-Spray By-Law, the Supreme Court of Canada Has Advanced Environmental Rights into the Previously Inaccessible Territory of Private Property. (Stir It Up)


Perks, Gord, Alternatives Journal


Greenies tend to think of lawns as sterile monocultures. They turn out to be political jungles.

Lawns occupy a special place in the centuries-old battle over private property, first emerging when English manor houses enclosed common grazing lands. The contemporary battleground lies in suburbia where lawn care companies have hired big lobbyists to keep the boundary around private lawns intact. They are losing.

At a recent Toronto City Council committee meeting, a volunteer-led group with slim political experience beat the big lobbyists into the dirt. The group brought in children's singers Sharon, Lois and Brain to serenade the committee with an antipesticide version of their big hit "Skinnamarinky-dinky-dink." The committee unanimously recommended that council pass a bylaw banning the cosmetic use of pesticides in Toronto. It will apply to both public properties (schoolyards, parks) and residential homes.

The wealthy Montreal suburb of Hudson, Quebec, was the first to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides. Dragged all the way to the Supreme Court, Hudson's bylaw was upheld in what may be that court's most important judgment ever on an environmental issue. Now anti-pesticide campaigns are popping up like wildflowers all over Canada, and over 30 municipalities are debating bylaws of their own. Three--Halifax, Shediac, New Brunswick, and Cobalt, Ontario--have already passed them.

But the anti-pesticide activists have got private property defenders with their backs to the wall. When the health of children is at risk, even stalwart suburbanites argue that public health should trump private wealth. Don Mills and Oakville in the Greater Toronto Area, Vancouver burbs Port Moody, West Vancouver, and Hudson: these places aren't known as green hotbeds. But each has spawned a group of angry parents working to end spraying.

These pesticide bylaws are subtly challenging the private property wall which has blocked many an environmental initiative. My first defeat by private property was with "zero discharge", a campaign to phase-out chlorine in the pulp and paper and chemical industries in the late 1980s and early 90s. At Greenpeace, where I then worked, we argued that only by eliminating the use of chlorine in industrial processes could we prevent the discharge of chlorinated wastes. That put the public interest inside the plant gate where the chemicals are use d. …

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