Ontario Place for All, the 30,000-member grass roots group fighting the West Island mega-spa, this morning launched a lawsuit against the Doug Ford government, alleging that provincial officials failed to obey Ontario’s environmental assessment rules by exempting the 61,000 sq.-metre structure that will be built and operated by Therme Group, an Austrian firm.
In the 27-page document, released at Queen’s Park this morning, OP4A is applying for an interim and interlocutory injunction to prevent Infrastructure Ontario contractors from destroying the 800-plus stand of trees on the West Island, a judicial review of the government’s decision to exempt the $350 million project from the EA process, and an order compelling the government to release the 95-year lease between Therme and the province.
The suit also asks the court to order the province to properly complete the EA, accounting for the impact of the Therme structure on migratory birds and species at risk, as well as the carbon burden associated with the five-level underground parking garage proposed for one of Ontario Place’s two surface lots.
The law firm Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein, which specializes in administrative law and fought some of the lawsuits launched against the late Rob Ford during his mayoralty, is representing OP4A. The suit is directed against the Ontario ministries of infrastructure, and tourism, culture and sport, as well as Infrastructure Ontario, which is overseeing the Ontario Place redevelopment.
The move comes only a day after Walter Kehm, a renowned landscape architect, quit the team that’s been hired by IO to oversee the revitalization of Ontario Place’s public open space. Queen’s Park is also facing an auditor-general’s probe of the Therme deal, which has become fodder for pointed opposition party questions in the legislature over the past month.
“Ontario Place for All is committed to using all possible avenues to hold the provincial government accountable for their actions at Ontario Place and ensuring that they follow the proper process which would involve public consultation on the West Island redevelopment. This filing is one of those avenues. We just want the government to follow its own laws” Norm Di Pasquale, Co-Chair of Ontario Place for All, said in a statement released this morning.
The Ford government watered down the province’s environmental assessment laws early in its first term, and argued that the mega-spa was exempt from the review because it was a private undertaking. In its filing, OP4A cites a provision of the EA Act that says the rules apply to “enterprises or activities or proposals, plans or programs in respect of enterprises or activities by or on behalf of Her Majesty in right of Ontario or by a public body or public bodies or by a municipality or municipalities.”
OP4A’s statement of claim alleges, among other things, that the secret 95-year lease “contain terms making it clear the West Island Redevelopment, including the Spa, is not a private undertaking but is rather an enterprise or activity or proposal, plan or program in respect of an enterprise or activity by on behalf of the Government of Ontario.”
Those contentions have not yet been tested in a court of law.