Some London families say picnic pirates are a problem in city parks

Forget the ants, the most loathsome pests for some London families this summer are picnic pirates.

Picnic pirates steal unoccupied picnic sites and then refuse to move even though they haven't paid

Gamal Tabidi lives in Byron and says it's often his job to sit at a picnic site and wait to keep people from taking it, even though his group has already paid. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Forget the ants, the most loathsome pests for some London families this summer are picnic pirates.

Picnic pirates are people who steal reserved picnic sites before they're occupied and then refuse to move, even though they haven't paid or possess the necessary city permit. 

Gamal Tabidi, who uses picnic sites for events with London's Sudanese community, likes to stay one step ahead by arriving at the picnic site hours before an event starts to make sure the site isn't occupied by unwanted guests. 

"I live in Byron here. It's my job to come early," he said. "If you tell them you've already booked, some of them they are nice," noting others aren't so kind.

'They wouldn't leave'

Picnic areas like this one in London's Springbank Park can be a hot commodity in the summer and especially on weekends and many people say there's no guarantee they can use it, even if they booked and paid for it. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

In some cases, they refuse to move, despite the fact they aren't legally entitled to use the site.  

Tabidi recalls an incident two years ago where his group wasn't able to use a picnic site in Springbank Park to celebrate the birth of a friend's baby because people had swooped in first on a site Tabidi's friends had paid for. 

"They wouldn't leave," he said. "We had to move to the next site."

"There should be notice where the facility is," said Khusrou Shah, who often picnics in the park and has had trouble with picnic pirates in the past. "To avoid an issue there should be a notice where the site is." 

"People tend to follow [a sign] as opposed to a little piece of paper," he said. "If there's no notice board, how can you prove your point?" 

'Londoners are a respectful group of people'

The City of London has recently increased its signage at picnic sites, seen here, and at park entrances to deter would-be picnic pirates. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Scott Oldham, a senior official with London's Parks and Recreation department, said the city is aware that people sometimes clash over picnic sites, but wasn't sure how often it happens. 

"We're not 100 per cent sure on that because we only get information from the [disputes] that were escalated," said Scott Oldham, a manager with the City of London's Parks and Recreation department. 

An "escalated" dispute is when someone who doesn't hold a permit won't leave and Parks and Recreation staff have to dispatch a supervisor to the site to mediate the conflict. 

This year a supervisor has only been dispatched to act as referee twice, compared to four times in 2018, which is a fraction of the 161 bookings in 2016 and the 267 to date this year.

"Londoners are a respectful group of people and I think they appreciate that you take your chances when you go to a picnic site you haven't booked because somebody else may have it," Oldham said. 

It's why city officials ask that permit holders print out their permit and bring it with them when they go to the site, in order to prevent disputes with squatters. 

If that still doesn't work, Oldham said, people are invited to call the Parks and Recreation reservations hotline at 519-661-2489 ext. 4965 and the city will dispatch a supervisor to sort it out. 


About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email:


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