For over a decade, one lo­cal res­i­dent with an­ces­tral ties to the mas­sive Toronto ceme­tery has fought for the pub­lic good

Richmond Hill Post - - Contents - by Ge­orge Redak

How Mar­got Boyd took on the city’s big­gest ceme­tery and won

For more than 10 years, Moore Park res­i­dent Mar­got Boyd has bat­tled the Mount Pleas­ant Group of Ceme­ter­ies (MPGC), which is re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing nu­mer­ous ceme­ter­ies across the city. Re­cently, the fight spilled into the courts where Boyd won a cru­cial vic­tory. But it has been a long time com­ing.

“This is a huge case. It is a land­mark case,” said Boyd. “That’s what one of our lawyers said: ‘This is go­ing to be a land­mark case.’

“We have a statute, we have the law in black and white, and we can read it. So one would think, if you have a log­i­cal mind, they [MPGC] didn’t just throw [the law] away or make the law dis­ap­pear.”

The MPGC over­sees 10 ceme­ter­ies and nearly 500 hectares of land in the GTA.

The is­sue of the MPGC and its struc­ture and ac­tiv­i­ties was first raised in 2008 when Boyd be­gan ad­vo­cat­ing for the repa­tri­a­tion of the ceme­tery to the com­mu­nity.

At the time, neigh­bours bor­der­ing his­toric Mount Pleas­ant Ceme­tery in the area around the Moore Park neigh­bour­hood of north Toronto were up­set with the MPGC de­ci­sion to open up fa­cil­i­ties that were out­side what they saw as the scope of ceme­tery ser­vices. Even­tu­ally, they formed the Friends of Toronto Pub­lic Ceme­ter­ies (FTPC), with Boyd as their spokesper­son.

“A cre­ma­to­rium, strictly speak­ing, is that a ceme­tery?” said Boyd about MPGC’s op­er­a­tions. “What about fu­neral homes?” A let­ter was then sent to the or­ga­ni­za­tion ask­ing for fu­ture pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions in these mat­ters.

Noth­ing came from that ini­tial out­reach to the group, ac­cord­ing to Boyd, which con­tin­ued to con­duct busi­ness like a pri­vately owned, non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The MPGC also de­nied Boyd a trustee po­si­tion to which she was pub­licly elected dur­ing a com­mu­nity meet­ing.

Although the 1826 law that cre­ated the MPGC stip­u­lated that such ap­point­ments were manda­tory, the MPGC de­cided its in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the law took prece­dent.

Boyd spent thou­sands of hours re­search­ing, dis­cussing and un­cov­er­ing in­for­ma­tion about the MPGC and its op­er­a­tions.

It was in 2013 when the first le­gal ac­tion was taken, but Boyd and the FTPC ran into a fi­nan­cial road­block.

Ac­cord­ing to Boyd, the MPGC asked for $50,000 in se­cu­rity to cover the cost of go­ing to court.

This large sum was not some­thing Boyd and her group could come up with, but the le­gal ex­pert on her team had an­other sug­ges­tion.

Pamela Tay­lor, the cor­po­rate sec­re­tary and trea­surer of the FTPC, is a lawyer spe­cial­iz­ing in cor­po­rate and com­mer­cial law.

She is also quite fa­mil­iar with le­gal is­sues con­cern­ing Crown cor­po­ra­tions, hav­ing served on mul­ti­ple boards that rep­re­sent pub­lic trusts.

Boyd said, Tay­lor sug­gested that they move the law­suit un­der the Char­i­ties Ac­count­ing Act.

The only stip­u­la­tion for this is that they needed one more per­son to come onto their claim.

In 2010, while Ward 13 city coun­cil­lor Kristyn Wong-Tam was can­vass­ing for an up­com­ing elec­tion, she met Boyd and heard of her on­go­ing dis­pute with the MPGC.

Wong-Tam de­cided to join the fight, not as a coun­cil­lor, but as a pri­vate cit­i­zen along­side Boyd’s group, the FTPC.

“I gave it some con­sid­er­a­tion and said I would put my name for­ward as a pri­vate cit­i­zen,” said WongTam.

“Be­cause I was able to join their le­gal ac­tion, the courts al­lowed them to pro­ceed and brought the ap­pli­ca­tion un­der the Char­i­ties Ac­count­ing Act.”

Boyd ex­plained that the MPGC op­posed the pro­ceed­ings, based on the un­der­stand­ing that they had achieved the sta­tus of pri­vate cor­po­ra­tion in 1871.

Jus­tice Sean Dun­phy of On­tario’s Su­pe­rior Court of Jus­tice re­jected this claim on the ba­sis that the 1871 statute to in­cor­po­rate the MPGC had the very spe­cific ob­jec­tive of car­ry­ing out the statu­tory, per­pet­ual trust cre­ated in 1826.

“Once I started go­ing through the due dili­gence process — do re­search and find out how the whole thing was set up — that is how I found out that my great-great­great-grand­fa­ther (Sir John Bev­er­ley Robin­son) wrote the leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a statu­tory pub­lic trust in 1826,” said Boyd.

Since it was set up at that time as a pub­lic trust by cit­i­zens who payed out of their own pock­ets, the aim was to cre­ate a non-de­nom­i­na­tional ceme­tery that would serve the res­i­dents of York.

Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent rul­ing, Jus­tice Dun­phy con­cluded that the MPGC was in vi­o­la­tion of the law that cre­ated this pub­lic group in the first place.

For Boyd, the red flags seem to be­gin in the 1980s when MPGC seemed to veer its course away from the laws re­gard­ing trustee elec­tions and stopped hav­ing pub­lic in­put in the process.

Jus­tice Dun­phy high­lighted this fact in his rul­ing, ex­press­ing his judg­ment that the MPGC was base­lessly vi­o­lat­ing rules.

“There was no rea­son for the ceme­ter­ies to sim­ply stop fol­low­ing the rules,” said Wong-Tam.

With a pend­ing ap­peal on this de­ci­sion, the in-court por­tion of this bat­tle has been on­go­ing for well over five years now.

Through all this, Boyd and the FTPC, with the help of WongTam, have been fight­ing to set things right.

“We have this world that we live in, and if we are not ac­tive in it, you get what you de­serve,” said Boyd.

“What kind of world would I be al­low­ing my chil­dren to live in if I wasn’t this ac­tive? I need to make sure that there are some trees that aren’t cut, there’s some forests that are not pol­luted. These things just res­onated with me.”

“There was no rea­son for the ceme­ter­ies to sim­ply stop fol­low­ing the rules.”

Lo­cal ac­tivist Mar­got Boyd in front of Mount Pleas­ant

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