Toronto

Gone to the dogs: Turf war on CityPlace sports field over lack of off-leash space

Some downtown Toronto residents are growing frustrated with dog owners letting their canines run off-leash on a section of artificial turf designated as a sports field. 

'They're defecating on the field,' says resident who filmed dog owners breaking bylaw

A showdown over a section of artificial turf at CityPlace that's being used by some dog owners as an unofficial off-leash area is creating 'community conflict.' (Greg Bruce/CBC)

Some downtown Toronto residents are growing frustrated with dog owners letting their canines run off-leash on a section of artificial turf designated as a sports field. 

"They're defecating on the field. I just want to enjoy the neighbourhood," said Arthur Melon.

The CityPlace resident tried to film a group of dog owners on Tuesday morning breaking a Toronto bylaw that stipulates pooches must remain leashed at all times outside authorized locations. 

But he says the interaction turned violent. 

"Nothing ever seems to move forward on this. You see them down here constantly with the dogs off-leash."

The space at the centre of the controversy is in Canoe Landing Park, an eight-acre green space between the Gardiner Expressway and Fort York Boulevard.

Warning: Video contains graphic language

The one-minute cellphone video shows Melon approach a group of four owners and ask them to leash their dogs. One man tied his dog up, while others can be heard saying: "Turn around, go do something else. Call 311 if you want someone to do something."

A dog then runs up to Melon and starts barking at his feet. He tells the pooch to "f--- off" before its owner identifies the dog as his. The owner then appears to try and grab the camera, and the screen goes dark. 

"The phone was slapped out of my hand, [it] made contact with my wrist," Melon said.   

The video was shared on YouTube and circulated on social media, racking up more than 11,000 views.

"We've got this tight little spot that we're trying to call home. Just behave guys," he said as a message to dog owners.

'Tough living in this situation'

But those in the high-density waterfront community are divided. 

"It's kind of a sticky situation," said dog owner Donald Stewart.

He is also an athlete and says he understands why sports teams are frustrated with dogs encroaching on their space. 

"You want a good space where you can play soccer without having to step on dog poo," Stewart said, adding that turf burn could pose the risk of infection if a player slides into a contaminated area where a dog had relieved itself.   

"Unfortunately you've got thousands of dogs and you're left with this small little area that isn't taken care of," he said of the square-shaped, fenced play area for dogs. 

"It's tough living in this situation ... and I think that's why people are going to this turf." 

'Community conflict'

CityPlace, a condo complex along the city's waterfront, is home to 20,000 highrise dwellers. 

"This area, the south turf, since it has been fenced, it's become an unofficial and illegal dog run for dog owners," Gary Pieters said, despite signs posted on the perimeter that read: "No dogs allowed."

Pieters, the president of the CityPlace Residents Association, explained the turf war is causing conflict between dog owners and non-dog owners, that's growing worse by the day.

We have grass areas where people can walk with dogs on leashes, and we have a turf field where people can play sports.- Coun. Joe Cressy, Ward 10

"There's a lot of community conflict. There's a lot of insults thrown between dog owners and non-dog owners. There's cyberbulling. There's harassment," he told CBC Toronto. 

"We want our neighbours to co-exist peacefully, but for them to follow the policies and procedures."

Dogs roaming without a leash in undesignated areas can carry a $365 fine under the Toronto Municipal Code.   

The CityPlace off-leash dog park was a pilot project initiated in 2017 by Coun. Joe Cressy, whose ward includes the neighbourhood, and the CityPlace Residents Association. 

This rendering shows plans for an off-leash dog area under the Gardiner Expressway. (joecressy.com)

A permanent two-acre off-leash dog area, however, is planned underneath the Gardiner Expressway, between Bathurst Street and Fort York Boulevard. Cressy says this will provide more amenities for dogs, but there's no timeframe for when it will be finished.

"In a growing and dense city like Toronto, this is a challenge in nearly every neighbourhood where we need more green space," Cressy said.

"We need to design spaces with the limited space we have for all people, both two-legged and four-legged, and then we also have to share the spaces that we have." 

Improvements are slated for the current off-leash dog area this spring, Cressy noted.

"We have grass areas where people can walk with dogs on leashes and we have a turf field where people can play sports," he said.

"It's not easy, but we all need to share it."

With files from CBC's Greg Ross

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