Osgoode Hall trees will live to see another weekend.
What’s left of them, anyway.
On Friday night, a Divisional Court judge ordered a temporary stay on Metrolinx to remove more trees from the site until at least next Tuesday, when an Indian organization will argue why the court should hear its appeal in the case.
If a panel of judges on the court refuses to hear the appeal, the stay will be lifted immediately, Judge David Corbett said in a brief ruling. If the court agrees to hear the appeal, the parties will meet with Corbett at the end of Tuesday to discuss next steps.
At issue are several trees on expropriated land at the historic downtown Toronto site, which is home to the Ontario Court of Appeal, Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Bar Association.
Metrolinx has said the removal of the trees, which sparked public outrage, is necessary to eventually build a subway station on the land for its new Ontario Line.
Removal has started and stopped multiple times since the beginning of the month as the trees’ legal saga went “through three different courts in Ontario at lightning speeds,” Corbett said in court Friday afternoon.
Eleven trees were affected. As of this week, five have been removed, four have been heavily pruned, and two are intact.
The Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI), an organization that represents Haudenosaunee rights and interests in land and development issues, was the Indian organization seeking a temporary moratorium on logging.
HDI attorney Tim Gilbert argued Friday that Metrolinx reneged on a commitment to engage meaningfully with the Haudenosaunee, whose territories include Osgoode Hall and who have said the trees have cultural significance.
“The right is not absolute,” Gilbert said. “It doesn’t absolutely prevent tree felling, but what it does require is a real and meaningful commitment, and that can lead to a fix that hasn’t happened yet.”
Metrolinx’s attorney, Sarit Batner, argued that it is primarily a disagreement over money. She had urged Corbett to reject the request, saying stopping Metrolinx’s work again could be costly.
He said the meetings and emails between HDI and Metrolinx were aimed at “devising a compensation model” regarding any impact on the rights and interests of the Haudenosaunee.
“There was no commitment to meet and discuss treaties made and not fulfilled. That is not something that Metrolinx has committed to, or ever would have committed to,” Batner said.
Gilbert told the Star that his client was “relieved” by Corbett’s decision. “We are grateful for the efforts, availability and accommodation of the courts to hear these important matters,” he said.
Metrolinx described Corbett’s ruling in a statement as “yet another delay as we work to build the transit system Ontarians need and deserve.”
HDI last week failed to get Ottawa-based Superior Court Judge Charles Hackland to grant a temporary injunction on tree removal until the commitment to Metrolinx could be finalized. HDI said it wanted a mediator to help with that job.
HDI wanted Corbett to impose the suspension until he could argue before a full Divisional Court panel next week why the court should hear his appeal of Hackland’s decision.
The organization initially went to the Ontario Court of Appeal this week to make those arguments, and the high court ordered a temporary stay of its own last weekend until a hearing.
But the court concluded on Friday morning that the proper place for the HDI application was in the Divisional Court, and referred it to Corbett in the afternoon.
HDI’s legal efforts stem from a similar move by the Law Society of Ontario, the body that regulates the legal profession and owns part of the Osgoode Hall site.
The Bar Association initially managed to obtain a temporary injunction against tree removal earlier this month, only for Hackland to also dismiss its request for an additional injunction last Friday at the same time he dismissed HDI.
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