Ontarian ready to go to Supreme Court for not mowing his lawn

Three years ago, Wolf Ruck decided to allow nature to take its course by letting its grass grow wild. He maintains that his project is good for the environment, but the City of Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, where he lives, does not see things the same way. After several complaints from neighbors and two lawn mowing operations forced by the Municipality, the Ontarian decided to take the matter to court.

Wolf Ruck loves spending his days watching birds on his garden chair. The retired septuagenarian, former Olympic athlete and occasional painter, is a nature lover.

In 2021, he stopped mowing the lawn on most of his land. Rewilding, he says, is an environmental approach that helps promote biodiversity and improve pollination.

The traditional way of lawn maintenance is very damaging to the environment and biodiversity. […] So I decided to do my part and join this movementhe explains.

Today, Wolf Ruck’s small bungalow is almost completely hidden by tall grass and trees.

He still cut small paths to allow him to move around and demarcate his property from that of his neighbor.

The idea that I have abandoned my property, that it is dilapidated and a blight on the neighborhood, is not at all what I do.he said.

Force mowed grass

However, for three years, the City of Mississauga has received complaints from disgruntled neighbors.

Municipal regulations stipulate that lawns and grasses on private property must be mowed and cannot exceed 20 centimeters in height.

Wolf Ruck has received notices of non-compliance and a visit from municipal inspectors, but he refuses to mow his lawn.

In 2022 and 2023, a city maintenance team came to mow the entire lawn.

They said we had to cut everything.

A quote from Wolf Ruck

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The grounds of Wolf Ruck are covered in wild plants, such as purple moor grass, Canadian goldenrod, eastern daisy fleabane, and sow thistle.

Photo: Radio-Canada

In an email, the City of Mississauga explains that it does not want to comment on the matter, since the case is still before the courts. However, she claims to have given Mr. Ruck several days to comply with municipal by-laws before having his lawn mowed in 2023.

A right protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

In 2023, Wolf Ruck therefore decided to take legal action.

In May, the Ontario Superior Court rejected his arguments that the City of Mississauga was violating his freedom of expression by forcing him to mow his lawn. He therefore appealed the decision.

Wolf Ruck bases his argument on a 1996 decision by the Ontario Court of Justice. The case pitted the City of Toronto against Sandy Bell, a resident who was fined $50 for letting her grass grow out of control. savage. Like Wolf Ruck, she maintained that her garden was beneficial to the environment.

According to Sandy Bell’s lawyers, the City, by wanting to force the Toronto woman to cut her grass, had violated her right to express her environmental beliefs, guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The judge ruled in their favor and the decision has now become a precedent.

In his judgment, the judge recognized the benefits linked to biodiversity, but concluded that the risks raised by the Municipality outweighed the retiree’s right to freedom of expression. The judge emphasizes, for example, that with its by-law, Mississauga wants to avoid fire risks as well as health problems caused by the presence of allergenic plants and rodents.

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A contested decision

The Ontario Superior Court’s decision, however, does not hold water, according to David Donnelly, a lawyer specializing in environmental and municipal law.

I think he should have won, because the Court did not explicitly prove that his land poses these kinds of riskssays the lawyer, who has defended residents in eight similar cases in Ontario.

Claude Lavoie, who is a biologist and professor at the Superior School of Territorial Planning and Regional Development at Laval University, agrees.

According to him, natural gardens like that of Wolf Ruck do not represent a fire risk, unless they grow in arid areas particularly prone to forest fires, for example in California.

He adds that allergenic plants generally don’t grow in these natural gardens, since they don’t tolerate shade.

It is a contribution to biodiversity. You may not like it, but these are not the best arguments to put forward to ban this type of practice.

A quote from Claude Lavoie, biologist

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Wolf Ruck loves watching birds on his land.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Andréane Williams

This is not beautiful

Wolf Ruck has never seen the content of the complaints against his land, since the City considers this to be confidential information.

Several residents of the neighborhood, however, explained to Radio-Canada that they found Mr. Ruck’s land unsightly. Some also expressed concern that its land would encourage the presence of ticks and rodents in the neighborhood.

None of them wanted to testify publicly, fearing the impact of their testimony on their relations with the neighborhood.

The problem is that we are letting neighbors who know nothing about the law or biology, and city inspectors who know nothing about botany or fire prevention, go against good pollination practices.deplores Me Donnelly.

The lawn industry has been hammering home the concept of an impeccable lawn for 75 years. […] So, we should not expect mentalities to change overnight.

A quote from Claude Lavoie, biologist

Lawyer specializing in municipal law David Germain recommends that citizens who want to change things take the political route.

We must elect municipal councilors who will bring changehe said.

In the meantime, Wolf Ruck has decided to take his case to the Ontario Court of Appeal. His legal and administrative costs already exceed $7,000, but he says he is ready to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The only way to achieve your goals is to perseverehe summarizes.

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