Toronto

Scarborough councillor wants to send bill for emergency services to people who get stuck on Bluffs

An east end city councillor is suggesting that daredevils who get stuck trying to climb the Scarborough Bluffs should be billed for the cost of the rescue.

It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to mount a rescue operation, Coun. Paul Ainslie says

Scarborough Coun. Paul Ainslie (Ward 24 Scarborough-Guildwood) says people should enjoy the view, but respect the potential dangers of the bluffs. (Tina MacKenzie/CBC)

An east end city councillor is suggesting that daredevils who get stuck trying to climb the Scarborough Bluffs should be billed for the cost of the rescue.

Paul Ainslie told CBC Toronto he's frustrated with the number of people who continue to ignore warning signs — and a potential $5,000 fine — to try their luck scaling the cliffs.

There's parts of it where you want to climb down and it doesn't look too bad, but there's trees in your way, and when you pass the trees,  you might have another drop," Ainslie, who grew up playing near the Bluffs, said. 

"Next thing you know, you're on your cell phone calling 911 and screaming for help."

In addition to those who intentionally try to climb down the cliffs, or up from the bottom, Ainslie said he also worries about sightseers who wander beyond fences and warning signs to take in the breathtaking view over Lake Ontario from the cliffs' edge.

"The Scarborough Bluffs often erode from the bottom...and you could be standing on an overhang not knowing it's an overhang," he said. "That gets eaten out, and over you go."

Earlier this year, the city issued a public warning on social media about the risks associated with going too close to the sandy cliffs. (CBC)

That's a reality that wasn't lost on sightseer Lillian Taylor, who was walking through a park behind the Guild Inn last week. Ainslie watched as she went beyond the signs and yellow "no trespassing" tape to take in the view from the edge.

"You can't help but see that view...it's very tempting," she told CBC Toronto later, adding she agrees with Ainslie's attempt to do more to discourage people from straying too close to the brink.

"It's a good idea because you're going to lose that part (of the bluff edge) sooner or later anyway, if everybody keeps going on it.

"There are other areas that I go to, down Brimley, where you can enjoy it safely."

Ainslie said he is not sure how much people who are rescued should be charged. But he estimated that it costs "in the hundreds of thousands of dollars" for emergency services to mount a rescue operation.

He said the average call requires eight emergency vehicles and 25 staff.

Multiple signs throughout the public parks that border on the bluffs warn of danger and fines. even so, people regularly stray too close to the cliffs, Coun. Ainslie says. (Tina MacKenzie/CBC)

"There's much better things they could be doing," he said. "You're taking eight trucks out of service, which covers a good chunk of Scarborough."

In July, the city launched a social media blitz aimed at keeping people a safe distance from the cliffs.

Twitter posts noted that in 2018, there were 16 rescues at the bluffs. Those operations tied up a total of 413 staff and 123 trucks for almost 400 hours.

Crews were on ropes for more than two and a half hours in July, 2018, rescuing people who got trapped on the Bluffs. There were 16 incidents that year. (John Hanley/CBC)

Since 2011, at least two people have died on the bluffs. There has been at least one rescue this year — in July — although exact numbers are not clear. The Toronto Fire Service declined to speak with CBC Toronto for this story.

The bluffs run for 15 kilometres, from the city's Eastern Beaches in the west to East Point Park in the east, and include 11 public parks. Ainslie estimates they range in height between 30 and 60 metres.

Until recently, knee-high bollards connected by cables were all that separated the public from the cliffs' edge. Staff are now in the process of replacing those barriers with waist-high fences.

Ainslie's motion, dubbed "Cost Recovery for Emergency Service Rescues Due Misadventure at Scarborough Bluffs," is due to be discussed at Wednesday's meeting of the economic and community development committee.

If the committee passes his motion, staff will be asked to look into the feasibility of charging people costs, and return with a report at the committee's April 8, 2020 meeting.

About the Author

Michael Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years. You can reach him at michael.smee@cbc.ca

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