TORONTO — As the stench of rotting garbage wafts over a downtown Toronto neighbourhood on a balmy summer day, residents scrawl a message in multi-coloured chalk on the adjacent street: “Parks are not dumps.”
As a third week dawns in the labour dispute between the City and its workers, those living near flash points are doing whatever they can to be heard in the din of the on-going argument.
But as public health officials began spraying pesticides Sunday on one of the smelliest sites of conflict, a downtown park being used as a temporary dumpsite, residents said they were feeling helpless.
“I get the feeling we’re being held hostage for political expediency,” Boris Steipe said after a morning stroll around the ice rink holding thousands of waste bags in Christie Pits Park.
“We are caught in the cross-fire between strong personalities and intransigent mega-lithic organizations.”
Trash collectors are among about 24,000 inside and outside municipal workers who walked off the job June 22, bringing garbage pickup to a halt and closing many city-run programs and services.
To handle piling up waste, the city opened more than 20 parks as temporary drop-off sites — even as other options, such as city parking lots, were available.
As Christie Pits quickly filled to capacity, the city’s public health department ordered inspectors to asses the refuse and cloak it with a cocktail of insecticide and chemical deodorant.
When those inspectors were blocked by pickets on at least two occasions, according to the city, they sought and won a court injunction Saturday enabling them to resume.
The legal proceeding was done with the health and safety of the public in mind, said City spokeswoman Patricia Trott.
“The medical officer of health has said when measures are used properly there are no risks to public health,” she said.
Despite the assurances, residents like Monica Gupta — who chairs the grassroots community group Friends of Christie Pits — are taking no comfort.
“There’s a no win situation in all of this,” she said Sunday after disposing of her family’s garbage at one of several transfer stations, which doesn’t pile refuse in places where children want to play.
“Nobody wins if you spray pesticides in a park, but nobody wins if you have an infestation of rats.”
CUPE says its members will abide by the injunction. Spokeswoman Pat Daley, for Local 416, added they’ll continue to picket as long as necessary to get a “fair” agreement.
Both sides in the dispute say labour negotiations continue.
In summer 2002, a similar strike that lasted two weeks only ended after Ontario’s three political parties unanimously passed back-to-work legislation during a special one-day sitting.