Councillor’s compromise could take some bite out of beaches dog ban

If a motion to be brought forward by Beaches-East York councillor Sandra Bussin should come to pass, dog owners may be allowed to walk their dogs along Kew and Balmy beaches ­- but only in the winter months.

Bussin presented a motion on Tuesday night to city council calling for Toronto Parks and Recreation staff to study how dogs and their owners will be affected by a newly-imposed ban on city beaches. Her motion, which was approved by council, followed a vote to ban dogs from Toronto’s beaches except in designated off-lead areas.

Toronto city council voted 33 to 3 to put large swaths of the beach off limits to dogs. The move comes as the city attempts to earn a ‘blue flag’ designation for Kew and Balmy beaches. Beaches with this designation have much higher standards in terms of water quality and pollution levels to allow safe swimming.

The city of Toronto has recommended that in order to earn and maintain the designation, no dogs be allowed on the beach.

However, Bussin said she was fairly confident her motion would pass. “There are a couple of other jurisdictions in Ontario that do allow dogs on the beach in a blue flag (area). I’m fairly sure I’ll win that motion,” she said.

Currently the Toronto has six blue flag beaches. The proposed amendment comes in an effort to reach a compromise with a group of pet owners questioning the city’s plan to ban dogs from land situated between the Silverbirch and Kew Beach off-leash areas.

Chris Yaccato helped organize a protest of the no-dog plan at Kew Beach on Sunday. He said dog owners want to be able to use the beach in the winter without fear of being ticketed.

“We’ve always been allowed to walk our dogs off-leash south of the snow fence that’s erected up every year, and then all of a sudden signs were popping up saying we weren’t allowed to walk our dogs on the beach anymore,” Yaccato said.

He has since presented a petition to city council containing over 1,300 signatures.

Though Bussin is offering a compromise, she said she still believes dogs should not be allowed on the beaches, even in winter.

“It would be better if (dogs) were not allowed, because the whole idea is to have clean and swimable beaches,” Bussin said. “The urine and dog feces from those that don’t pick up or can’t pick up is accumulative. It is always better to reduce the level of these contaminants.”

However, Yaccato maintains dog waste is not the major polluter of beaches. “It is a contributor,” he said. “But goose and fish waste, and even human garbage left after people use the beaches is much more of a contributor.”

Still, he said he is willing to work with the city by forming an association of local dog owners. He hopes the group will raise awareness by putting up signs, launching education campaigns and providing bags along the waterfront to help remind pet owners to clean up after their animals.

“We’ll do whatever needs to be done in order to bring attention to the fact that if people are going to walk their dogs they have to be responsible and pick up after their pet,” he said.

If Bussin’s motion passes, Yoccato said he and his group will focus on ways to bring their concerns to council before there is a need to organize protests. And that, he said, will benefit both parties.

“Our efforts will be to make sure … we can all enjoy our public spaces properly,” Yaccato said.

Filed by Victoria Wells