LSO passes motion opposing expropriation of Osgoode Hall property by Metrolinx

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (December 9, 2022, 12:56 PM EST) -- In an effort to protect the “seat of justice,” the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) has passed a motion opposing the expropriation of its property by Metrolinx for the development of the Ontario Line.

According to a statement issued by the LSO, this “step reflects the importance of preserving historic Osgoode Hall and its grounds and protecting the integrity of the building and its foundation and is made in recognition of the importance of the appearance of the administration of justice in Ontario associated with Osgoode Hall as the home of the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Law Society of Ontario.”

Osgoode HallOsgoode Hall

The motion, which was voted on in-camera at the Dec. 1 Convocation, was brought by benchers Geoffrey Pollock and Jonathan Rosenthal and received “overwhelming support” from the board.

In an interview with The Lawyer’s Daily, Pollock stressed that Osgoode Hall is “the seat of justice in the province of Ontario.”

“It is vital to the province and to the country and the manner in which Metrolinx was going about the expropriation, I thought, was reprehensible,” Pollock said about why he brought the motion.

He noted that the grounds are important for a “number of reasons.” Not only do the grounds “predate Confederation,” but “it’s also one of the very few green spaces that is open in the heart of the city.”

LSO bencher Geoffrey Pollock

LSO bencher Geoffrey Pollock

“I would say it’s a public trust for everyone,” Pollock emphasized, noting that his concerns reached also to the “structural integrity of the buildings.”

He noted that the “high-handed manner in which Metrolinx has operated and [is] refusing to really look at the other alternatives” is “deeply distressing.”

In a statement to The Lawyer’s Daily, Rosenthal said he brought the motion because he “cannot fathom Metrolinx destroying Osgoode Hall by placing a subway station on its grounds.”

“Osgoode Hall is one of the most beautiful and historic buildings in the city. In addition, its gardens are one of the last remaining green spaces in the downtown Toronto and on top of that it is the home to both the Law Society of Ontario and the Ontario Court Appeal,” he explained, stressing that “Osgoode Hall represents justice.”

“There are other equally suitable locations. Metrolinx should choose another location so that they don’t destroy an important piece of history,” Rosenthal asserted.

This is not the first time the legal profession has stood up in opposition to Metrolinx’s plans. In June, the Federation of Ontario Law Associations (FOLA) issued a letter raising “serious concerns” about the proposed Metrolinx development of Osgoode Hall’s grounds.

TLSO bencher Jonathan Rosenthal

LSO bencher Jonathan Rosenthal

In the letter, sent to Metrolinx president and CEO, Phil Verster, FOLA’s chair, Douglas Judson, stressed that heavy construction would disrupt “users of Osgoode Hall, including the Court of Appeal for Ontario, the Superior Court of Justice, the Law Society of Ontario, and the Great Library,” which are “central to the function of the Ontario court system and the legal profession itself.”

The organization sent another letter in November, highlighting Metrolinx’s plan to remove trees from Osgoode Hall’s property. The letter called on Mayor John Tory and the City of Toronto to “take action to address these serious issues and Metrolinx’s aggressive and reckless disregard for these issues.”

Pollock assured The Lawyer’s Daily that he and his bencher colleagues are “completely in support of the project for the Ontario Line,” and this motion, is “not, in any way, shape or form, about the Ontario Line.”

“This is about saying ‘what is the best way in which we can build this?’ And there are other options; there are other alternatives. You have a situation where, as I said, there’s precious green space. You have the trees. You have this wrought iron fence that predates Confederation. You have the issue of the structural integrity of the buildings, and there are other options just a few metres away that Metrolinx didn’t even bother exploring,” he explained.

“I think, frankly, Metrolinx has been intellectually lazy in refusing to look at the other alternatives,” he said, noting that Metrolix has also “acted very much akin to a bully and not honouring what their original commitments were.”

The Lawyer’s Daily noted that some legal professionals had gone so far as to assert they would tie themselves to the trees if Metrolinx moved forward with its plan. Pollock said that lawyers are “a passionate bunch.”

“Lawyers get especially passionate when it comes to injustice. We have ways of fighting the injustice and do I think there’s a possibility of civil disobedience, I do,” he added.

However, it is Pollock’s hope that “Metrolinx will see the opposition,” which he noted is “not just from the law society.”

“I know members of the judiciary and former members of the judiciary are very concerned about it and about the integrity of the buildings,” he added, noting that “the mayor and the City of Toronto have come out against this proposal.”

“I would encourage, in the strongest possible way, Metrolinx to look at the other alternatives out there,” he concluded.

In response to request for comment from The Lawyer’s Daily, a Metrolinx spokesperson said, “our technical teams considered six locations other than the Osgoode Hall property and concluded this is the option that provides the most benefits.”

“The northeast corner of University Avenue and Queen St. West is the only location that can accommodate the construction of Osgoode station. Land is required for the construction laydown and digging of a shaft that will allow for underground excavation and construction of this new large underground complex, while leaving room to ensure existing pedestrian, bicycle, transit and vehicle traffic continues to flow. We also need to ensure sufficient station space to handle expected passenger volumes, adherence to modern fire codes and accessibility standards, as well as ease of transfer to surface streetcars,” the spokesperson explained.

“We unfortunately cannot create enough station space in the northbound vehicle and bicycle lanes of University Avenue due to existing subway tunnels and a utility corridor located under the street,” they added, noting that Metrolinx “will make sure to take every reasonable effort to lessen short-term impacts at Osgoode Hall and work with our contractors in consultation with community partners to restore and beautify the grounds.”

“We will continue working closely with the city, Law Society of Ontario and other stakeholders in the coming months and years as the project advances. Another community meeting will be held in the coming weeks,” the spokesperson concluded.

According to Metrolinx, the “Ontario Line is a much needed and long overdue subway line that will connect new neighbourhoods across the city and provide much needed capacity to the existing subway network in Toronto.”

“In particular, Osgoode station will be within a short 10-minute walk of more than 16,500 residents and connect to more than 110,500 jobs in the area. At peak capacity this station will service almost 12,000 passengers during its busiest hours,” the Metrolinx statement explained.

Photo credit: Photo of Osgoode Hall trees by Anita Szigeti. 

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