Pesticide Restrictions Sprouting Like Weeds  
Website Special Article
December 2001

In Calgary, it's illegal to have a seeding dandelion on your lawn.  But in other parts of Canada, municipalities big and small are moving towards bans or restrictions on cosmetic pesticide use.

A Supreme Court of Canada decision last June upheld the right of municipalities to take action to protect the environment and the health of their citizens, including restricting pesticide use. Lawn care companies fought the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.

In Ontario, a recent poll found that 82% of residents support restriction of cosmetic pesticide use.  London and Caledon seem to be in a race to see who will have the first pesticide by-law, although recently London city councillors have been backing off because they fear the municipality doesn't have the right to restrict pesticide use. London city council has now voted to seek permission from the provincial government to pass a bylaw limiting the use of pesticides. This is a compromise between those who want a bylaw and those who say such a move would expose the city to a lawsuit.

Ottawa City Council recently unanimously voted to proceed with a strategy to reduce cosmetic use of pesticides on private property. The strategy will include public consultation about adoption of a by-law, and a public education component.  At least seventeen other Ontario municipalities, including some of the largest, are currently working on (or discussing) pesticide by-laws.

In response, lawn care companies in Ontario are carrying out a vigorous campaign to block new restrictions.  Under the names Toronto Environmental Coalition, Ottawa Environmental Coalition etc., they have taken up the banner of human health, claiming that only with pesticides will people be safe from plant allergens and bug infestations.

Chelsea, Quebec, a community of 6,000 close to Ottawa, adopted a pesticide ban 3 years ago. It was the second Canadian community to do so. Lawn care companies predicted dire consequences, but three years later none of the fears voiced by opponents of the ban have occurred. There have been no massive outbreaks of insects or noxious weeds and the real estate market is booming. Chelsea has earned awards for environmental quality, and newcomers often say that they moved to Chelsea because of its environmental reputation.

Seven Quebec municipalities have banned pesticides for cosmetic purposes and four more are planning to take similar action by January. Environment Minister Andre Boisclair has named a three-member committee to make recommendations on reducing the use of pesticides on lawns and ornamental gardens on a province-wide basis. "I want Quebec to be the greenest place in North America," he said. "It is completely absurd that we in Quebec use10 times, 15 times more pesticides than what is available in the United States."

The New Brunswick Pesticides Coalition, with the backing of 275,000 New
Brunswickers, one third of the N.B. population, is asking the provincial minister of environment to restrict the supply, sale, and use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes in New Brunswick. She has the power to do this under the New Brunswick Pesticides Control Act.

Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) has just concluded year two of its phased in pesticide ban.  Parks and Natural Areas Manager Steven King is receiving inquiries from dozens of cities including Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. They want to learn from Halifax's ten years of experience managing public lands without pesticides, as well as new public education programs on alternatives to pesticides. Legal counsels want information on the by-law itself.  A recent corporate survey of HRM residents found that less than five percent were opposed to the pesticide restrictions. Ninety percent have a good understanding of the by-law and eighty-five percent are interested in learning more about alternative gardening methods.  "Year two was definitely a success," said Maureen Reynolds of Ratepayers Against Toxins in our Environment (RATE), a group which worked tirelessly for passage of the by-law. "We received calls from residents thanking us, telling us that for the first time in years they did not have to leave their homes to avoid pesticides."