Media Releases

Toronto’s by-laws fail to address city’s diversity, says U of Toronto study

October 25, 2012

TORONTO, ON — Diver­si­ty is one of the defin­ing qual­i­ties of the city of Toron­to but you’d nev­er know it by the way we design and enforce munic­i­pal by-laws, accord­ing to U of T crim­i­nol­o­gy and socio-legal stud­ies pro­fes­sor Mar­i­ana Valverde.

In fact, some of our most pop­u­lar mech­a­nisms for civic engage­ment – such as pub­lic meet­ings – do not sup­port inclu­sion but actu­al­ly dis­ad­van­tage mar­gin­al­ized groups, who are less like­ly to attend or speak up, and who often encounter prej­u­dice at the meet­ings if they do.

“The unfor­tu­nate result is that our offi­cials and cit­i­zens only respond to those – main­ly mid­dle- aged home­own­ers – who make their voic­es heard,” said Valverde, who reports the find­ings in her upcom­ing book Every­day Law on the Street.

Valverde and her research team spent four years par­tic­i­pat­ing in coun­cil hear­ings and civic asso­ci­a­tion meet­ings as well as accom­pa­ny­ing hous­ing inspec­tors and law enforce­ment offi­cials as they went about their day-to-day work. Toron­to has count­less by-laws cov­er­ing every­thing from yards to noise to food truck licens­es.  “The zon­ing by-law alone is thick­er than the income tax code,” she said.  Those on the ground rec­og­nize that many of the rules are out­dat­ed or impos­si­ble to enforce, and so offi­cers spend most of their time medi­at­ing, warn­ing and resolv­ing con­flicts which are often in response to com­plaints. But com­plaint-dri­ven enforce­ment is unfair.  Com­plaints from home­own­ers about garbage or noise are tak­en more seri­ous­ly than com­plaints from ten­ants, for exam­ple.

“In both the let­ter of the law and in pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions, we also saw a bias towards sin­gle-fam­i­ly detached home own­er­ship as the norm or ide­al, as con­trast­ed with pub­lic hous­ing or room­ing hous­es,” said Valverde.  In areas of the city where room­ing hous­es are licensed, which are the old city of Toron­to and parts of Eto­bi­coke, res­i­dents often attend and try to lean on the coun­cil­lor to pres­sure city staff to pre­vent room­ing hous­es from get­ting license renewals.

Diver­si­ty is more than eth­nic diver­si­ty, notes Valverde. “If Toron­to wants to be inclu­sive, it needs to include ten­ants as well as home­own­ers, recent immi­grants as well as long-time res­i­dents. This means mov­ing beyond micro-local plan­ning to embrace a more expan­sive, city-wide approach to plan­ning and reg­u­la­tion: a larg­er view than coun­cilors take now.  The cur­rent legal and polit­i­cal sys­tem encour­ages what Valverde calls the “one prop­er­ty at a time per­spec­tive.”

She advo­cates get­ting the com­mu­ni­ty involved in an ongo­ing basis, not just when a neigh­bour applies for a vari­ance. She points to New York’s com­mu­ni­ty boards of res­i­dents, busi­ness own­ers and city employ­ees that meet reg­u­lar­ly to dis­cuss plan­ning poli­cies and approve devel­op­ments as a more valid mod­el.


For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Mar­i­ana Valverde
Cen­tre for Crim­i­nol­o­gy and Soci­ole­gal Stud­ies
Cell: 416–464-3875
Tel: 416–978-6438 x 229

Kim Luke
Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–978-4352