Environment and Sustainable development

Brick foundation – Issue with a tree’s root system – Municipal tree – Exceptional intervention (2016)

Arrondissement de Ville-Marie

Charter file

A resident complains of damages to her building’s foundation caused by the roots of a municipal tree (brick foundation). Roots are discovered in her crawl space. The citizen demands that the tree be cut down. The Borough refuses to do so.

Upon our early interaction, the Borough scrambles to find an alternative solution to cutting down this tree: this approach seems reasonable and appropriate to us. Indeed, trees are a valuable asset for the City.

Following analysis, the Borough suggests to proceed with the sidewalk’s excavation and to cut the roots that are growing in the direction of the building’s foundation. At the same time, the Borough will replace the sidewalk slabs that have been substantially damaged by the root system. The owner will also take advantage of the excavation work to have her foundation repaired. The Borough’s proactive approach seems to be a win-win situation to us. The matter is therefore settled.

Unfortunately, the excavation work reveals that the tree’s root system is strongly concentrated along this sidewalk. Ongoing operations threaten to overly weaken the tree: it must therefore be felled for safety reasons. The Borough plans to plant a new tree at this location in 2017.

Green alley – Development of an island causing vehicle obstruction – Impacts a retailer – RECOMMENDATION rejected (2016)

Arrondissement de Rosemont−La Petite-Patrie

Charter file

The OdM appreciates how strongly the City strives to increase the greening of its territory, including alleys. We are very aware of the positive impacts that these interventions create on air quality and the citizens’ quality of life. We believe, however, that these projects should not result in depriving citizens of their rights or cause safety problems.

This file concerns a complaint from a retailer who finds it difficult to access his parking space ever since the Borough has partially blocked the alley located at the back of his building. A green island has namely been installed in the centre of the alley, preventing vehicles from crossing it.

We conduct several site visits. We observe the way the retailer has to manoeuvre his vehicle, in the presence of Borough representatives. We actually perform these manoeuvres ourselves using one of the Borough’s vans, and in the presence of a municipal staff member. At our request, the Borough also conducts an analysis of the turning radius.

We meet several times with the Borough (management and Mayor’s Office): the Green Alley Committee and other concerned residents attend one of these meetings.

In the middle of the enquiry, the Borough reduces the size of the green island: unfortunately, however, this does not resolve the access and safety issues that, in our opinion, remain unacceptable. All our undertakings confirm  that, in order to park his vehicle, this citizen must manoeuvre it forward and backward several times to avoid a lighting post located on the alley, near his parking space.

The Borough does not question our observations, nor our assessment of the difficulty level of the retailer’s manoeuvres. It deems, however, that since the retailer is technically capable of accessing his parking space, the situation is acceptable.

Ultimately, we issue a formal  RECOMMENDATION basically asking the Borough to:

Review the layout of this alley in order to restore easy, unhindered and safe access to the retailer’s parking space at the back, both when entering in and exiting out of it.

Failing to review the layout, the Borough should relocate the post so as to no longer hinder the retailer’s parking manoeuvres.

This RECOMMENDATION draws on, among others, Section 26 of the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, by which the City has committed to: “a) Developing  its territory in a safe manner; c) Taking measures to ensure citizen security in public spaces, notably in parks and community and recreational facilities (…); and e) Protecting people and their property.

We also emphasize the fact that the existing configuration may prompt delivery truck drivers to back up into this alley in order to avoid manoeuvring their vehicle around the post; in our opinion, this could threaten the safety of people in the alley at that time, including children.

Unfortunately, the Borough entirely rejects our RECOMMENDATION. We regretfullyclose this file, knowing that win-win solutions were at hand.


Arrondissement de Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie – Green alley projects – Four years of successful collaboration – Charter file (2015)

In 2011, when handling complaints from residents contesting the partial closing of their back alley, we had noted some flaws in the way neighbouring citizens had been consulted.

As early as 2012, we discussed our concerns with the Borough which was very receptive.  Its Green Alley Program was very recent and the Borough acknowledged that it could be improved.  It undertook to review all of its rules, taking our comments into consideration.

A new Green Alley Guide was adopted in 2012. The information and consultation processes were clearly improved therein.  The required support rate for the establishment of a green alley went from 30% to 51%; moreover, if a project involves the partial obstruction of vehicular traffic, a minimum of 75% of respondents is also needed.

The Borough then reviewed its Green Alley Guide annually, taking into account our comments and the experience acquired through other such files and more particularly, one file we have been handling since 2014.

The most recent version of the Green Alley Guide (2015-2016) is the culmination of an evolving process which has increased the credibility of the consultation process, improved the mentoring of Green Alley Committees and added social acceptability of such projects.  It also marks the end of our broad intervention on the rules and procedures governing the implementation of a green alley, in this Borough.

Installation work – French drain – Cutting the roots of a tree – Damage to a municipal tree – Fees charged to a citizen (2014)

The presence of trees, in a city like Montréal, has an important impact on the quality of life of citizens.  Therefore, the City adopted various regulations and policies to ensure the protection of its trees.

In Arrondissement de Saint-Léonard, the Borough’s Règlement concernant la protection et la conservation des arbres provides that no one can damage, prune or cut down a tree or a bush located on City propertyIt also provides that to modify the ground around a tree or a bush on or bordering public roads, so as to impair its growth or its solidity, is prohibited and constitutes a nuisance.

The preponderance of evidence supports that the citizen had not respected these provisions.  During work carried out on his French drain, the roots of the municipal tree were cut which affected its stability.  The amounts billed were consistent with those provided for in the Règlement sur les tarifs.

Protection of trees (2008)

Citizens regularly asked the Ombudsman de Montréal to obtain the authorization to cut a tree from which are falling an abundance of fruits or leaves and even occasionally honeydew on their property.

We must remind ourselves, however, that in an urban environment, the presence of trees brings many benefits to the entire community. Beyond their aesthetic impact, trees cleanse the air, provide shade during hot summer days, ensure a protection against the climate and serve as shelters and pantries to many small animals. Ville de Montréal, therefore, considers very important to protect the trees, except if they are sick and/or pose a serious risk. Citizens must, therefore, accept the normal inconvenience resulting from the presence of trees, near their residence.

Except in particular circumstances, the Ombudsman de Montréal generally approves this municipal approach.

As to flies that sometimes infest a tree and secrete a sticky liquid called honeydew, an adequate and ecological treatment, in the spring, can generally solve the problem: there is no need, therefore, to authorize the cutting down of trees, for this sole reason. When the infested tree is a municipal one, our office will ask the concerned borough to add this tree to the list of trees to be treated each spring, so as to control the presence of flies therein.

Reconciling protection of shorelines and Economic development (2006)

Citizens addressed themselves to the Ombudsman de Montréal to contest a resolution of the Executive Commitee by virtue of which part of the Rapides du cheval blanc territory would lose its status of an ecoterritory which Ville de Montréal could not alienate. The citizens submitted this resolution went against commitments found in the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities.

The Ombudsman de Montréal discussed this situation at length with the citizens concerned and she also went on location, with the deputy ombudsman, to visit the area and discuss their concerns. On the other hand, she requested relevant information from elected officials and municipal representatives responsible for this file and she analyzed the numerous documents relating thereto.

The contested resolution had been voted to allow the execution of an agreement which had been reached in 2001, between a contractor and the former Ville de Pierrefonds: Pierrefonds had then committed to exchange municipal land located approximately 75 meters away from des Prairies river with lands located directly on the bank of the river which belonged to the said contractor.

Our investigation confirmed that, in 2001, Pierrefonds had indeed concluded such an agreement with the contractor who was planning a residential project, on the said municipal land. At the time, the project was for approximately 650 condos, in high residential towers: the project respected the applicable municipal by-laws and, therefore, the City did not have to open a register or proceed with a referendum.

It was a long while, however, before the project took form. Among other things, this delay can be explained by the 2002 municipal mergers, by the important transition period which followed and also, by the fact that contaminants were later discovered on the municipal land that was to be yielded to the contractor: the said land had previously been used as a snow deposit site. Negotiations were, therefore, undertaken as a result of which the contractor undertook to take on the responsibility of decontaminating the land, which was since done.

On the other hand, the concerns raised by many citizens were noted by the borough and led to numerous modifications of the project:

  • At the request of the borough, experts identified which parts of the territory are critical to the protection of biodiversity and of the environment, as well as buffer zones and passage zones which also need protection: no construction will be permitted in any of these zones;
  • A swamp located on the project’s initial site will also be protected;
  • The borough worked with the contractor to modify the project with a view to integrate it better to its location: of the 650 units initially planned in high residential towers, the project has been reduced to 250 units, in much smaller buildings; and
  • The total surface of the construction site has also been reduced substantially.

We also reviewed the Arrondissement de Pierrefonds–Roxboro’s global plan for the development of the borough, which includes a project to create a park and a cycling path on the shores of des Prairies river, in the area concerned herein. Such a project would ensure the citizens’ access to the banks of the river, but to realize it, the borough must acquire bordering lands which are presently privately owned. The piece of land which the borough acquired from the contractor, through the land exchange under study, is consistent with this plan. In our opinion, the setting up of a park and of a cycling path, in this area, is consistent with the City’s commitment to promote access to the City’s shorelines and green spaces found in the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities.

In addition to the fact that the resolution contested herein was to ensure the execution of an agreement which had been reached in 2001, before the municipal mergers and way before the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, the Ombudsman de Montréal concluded that the construction project, as modified, was also consistent with the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities which, in its section 24 b), confirms Ville de Montréal’s commitment to reconciliate protection of the environment and economic development.

In the course of our intervention, however, we noted that the citizens’ dissatisfaction resulted greatly from the fact that little information had been communicated to them by the borough, with regard to this project and mostly, with regard to its evolution. Following our intervention, the borough agreed to meet with members of the Green Coalition, which include the citizens who had requested our intervention, to discuss the “new” project and the environment protection measures that were added to it.

First interim Recommendation – Cutting down of trees (2006)

A citizen submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman de Montréal to prevent the cutting down of mature trees on her neighbour’s property, behind her backyard. At the time of the request, the neighbour had already obtained a permit authorizing him to cut down these trees.

The citizen contested the legality of this permit, under the municipal statutes, notably, the new Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities. She was also seeking our opinion as to the reasonable or unreasonable character of the borough’s decision to issue this permit.

If we were to conclude that the permit should not have been granted, however, the trees would have already been cut down, by the time we reached our conclusion.

Given these exceptional circumstances, the Ombudsman de Montréal issued, for the first time, an interim Recommendation asking Arrondissement de Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce to temporarily suspend the permit which had been issued and to take appropriate measures to prevent the cutting down of these trees, while we were looking at the situation.

Our office had committed to act very quickly in this file and we had even confirmed to the borough that, as soon as it would have forwarded to us the relevant information we asked, we would issue our final conclusions or recommendations in no later than one week’s time.

Unfortunately, the borough did not agree to follow through with our interim Recommendation because, in its opinion, it did not have the power to suspend a permit which had already been issued.

Notwithstanding this negative first response, the Ombudsman de Montréal still believes that issuing interim Recommendations is a path she must continue to explore when circumstances are such that, if the borough or department waits until the end of her investigation before it takes any action, it may then be too late for her Recommendation to be useful.

We must, however, make the municipal representatives more aware of the appropriateness of such interim Recommendations, in the best interest of citizens. We will also emphasize on how such an approach may also be beneficial to the City, by limiting the risks of having to later redress or compensate for a situation which could have been illegal or inappropriate.

As to the merit of the case, i.e. the appropriateness of the permit to cut down these specific trees, our investigation revealed that:

  • The trees concerned were of a species of little value;
  • Some of the trees concerned were sick and old and were likely to represent a hazard, in a short term;
  • The permit had been issued in conformity with the Land Planning By-law;
  • The managers in charge had thoroughly studied the application in light of the various policies ensuring the protection of trees; and
  • In the present instance, the decision to allow the cutting down of these trees was not unreasonable.

In the present instance, the decision to allow the cutting down of these trees was not unreasonable.On the other hand, it soon became clear, during our investigation, that the borough knew little of the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities and of its legal status i.e. the fact that it is a municipal by-law which is binding on all municipal employees and elected officials.

This file provided opportunity to better inform the representatives of Arrondissement de Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce of this new document and on their legal duty to consider the commitments therein.

Recycling in buildings of more than 8 dwellings (2006)

In the spring of 2006, a citizen addressed himself to our office to contest the fact that, in Arrondissement de Pierrefonds–Roxboro, the buildings with more than 8 dwellings did not benefit from municipal recycling programs. This request was based on section 24 a) of the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities in which Ville de Montréal committed to promote waste reduction, re-use and recycling.

Our investigation confirmed that, in 6 boroughs of Montréal, recycling was not offered to buildings of 9 dwellings or more: Lachine, L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, Montréal-Nord, Pierrefonds–Roxboro, Saint-Laurent and Saint-Léonard. We discussed this situation with municipal representatives who explained that this situation was due, mainly, to the lack of funds.

After her intervention, the Ombudsman de Montréal received confirmation that Ville de Montréal was working on a project aiming to improve the collection of recyclable materials in apartment buildings. Resolutions were in the process of being prepared for approval by the City Council and the Agglomeration Council, with regard to:

  • Provide to buildings of more than 8 dwellings, recycling containers for paper, glass, plastic and metal in sufficient number given the number of dwellings in the said building; and
  • Additional funding, for this purpose.

As for Arrondissement de Pierrefonds–Roxboro, until recycling containers are made available in each apartments building, it has installed three recycling bells on its territory, where citizens can bring their recyclable materials. The borough also committed to progressively implement an Éco-quartier program.

In light of the above, the Ombudsman de Montréal ended her intervention in this particular file while maintaining regular follow-ups on this recycling issue.

The Executive Committee of Ville de Montréal has, since, approved that 2 million dollars to be spent, over a 2 year period, to promote more specifically recycling in buildings of 9 dwellings or more.

As to the Pierrefonds–Roxboro Éco-quartier program, it should be submitted to the Borough Council in early 2007 and, if all goes according to plans, buildings of more than 8 dwellings located in the borough should benefit from a recycling collection service, as soon as 2008.