Toronto

Torontonians pay triple what New Yorkers do for a city hall wedding

Across Ontario, happy couples are paying more than they would in other parts of Canada, thanks to a system that allows the province, municipalities and authorized officiants to profit from people saying "I do."

Provincial, municipal government both make millions from couples saying 'I do'

Muhammed and Emine Alibashev were married at city hall on Monday, and while the couple was overjoyed, they said they wished making it official was cheaper. (John Rieti/CBC)

Muhammed Alibashev and his fiance, Emine, came to city hall's wedding chambers to sign some paperwork and make it official, nothing more.

He wore jeans. She didn't wear white.

"She already has my heart," Alibashev told officiant Virginia Ceni, as he declined her offer of a short ceremony. But just moments later, as the pair linked hands, Alibashev buried his head on his new wife's shoulder and they both cried some happy tears as they were legally married.

Officiant Virginia Ceni, left, says couples who get married at city hall are often surprised at how emotional the moment is, as Alibashev found out. (John Rieti/CBC)

Of course, that sweet scene came with a hefty pricetag for the young couple, who also have an eight-month-old daughter.

Torontonians like the Alibashevs pay three times what New Yorkers do for a simple city-hall wedding. And all across Ontario, happy couples are paying more than they would in other parts of Canada, thanks to a system that allows the province, municipalities and authorized officiants to profit from people saying "I do."

Muhammed was blunt with his assessment: "It's a cash grab. But what are you going to do?"

Emine, who moved to Canada from Australia to be with Muhammed said she was a bit surprised by the price, as well. "For a bit of paper, yeah."

City, province both get a cut

In 2016, city officials say Toronto issued 15,680 marriage licences. Each document, mandatory for anyone wanting to get married, costs $140. The Ontario government charges municipalities $48 per licence, with Toronto pocketing the rest for its general revenue fund.

A service like the one the Alibashevs had — performed by an outside company that runs the city hall wedding chamber — costs $265, with the marriage licence included. A similar, albeit far shorter, civil ceremony at New York City's marriage bureau in Manhattan costs $60 US, or about $78.

Manhattan's marriage bureau does far more daily weddings than Toronto's city hall, but also charges less. (John Rieti/CBC)

Ontario made just over $3 million from selling marriage licences and certificates (which cost $15-22) during the last fiscal year, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services said.

The city didn't provide an exact total for how much it takes in from wedding services, but when you factor in people renting municipal wedding chambers (1,477 bookings at $117 per half hour), it's upwards of $1.6 million.  

Helen Smith, Toronto's manager of community councils and registry services, told CBC Toronto the fees are reviewed internally and the city tries to make sure they aren't a barrier to people getting married.

A recent Ontario Trillium Foundation report found Toronto had the fewest married people in the province as well as a large low-income population.

Other cities, provinces charge less

The Alibashevs hold hands during their short but sweet ceremony. (John Rieti/CBC)

The city also keeps an eye on what other municipalities are charging, although because couples have to pick up their licence in person, convenience tends to trump cost savings.

Here's a look at how much some other cities charge:

  • Ottawa: $155.30
  • Sudbury: $150
  • Hamilton: $147
  • Niagara Falls and Oshawa: $125

Both Mississauga and Brampton, meanwhile, now offer up city clerks who can perform wedding ceremonies, though Brampton's fee is still $479 for the service and marriage licence.

Windsor has been billing itself as a wedding destination, with affordable venue rentals and a slightly cheaper licence cost ($135).

Elsewhere in Canada, provinces tend to cut cities out. Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba and B.C. all charge $100 per marriage licence, while in Alberta, licences cost just $40, though the registry agencies that distribute them charge their own fees.

There are also cases of officiants waiving their fees, as some recently did for a mass-wedding event in Vancouver.

Of course, the cost of a basic civil marriage is still a drop in the bucket compared to the $30,000 Wedding Bells magazine estimates an average Canadian couple spends on their big day.

The Alibashevs say they have a lot of costs at the moment, including their baby and building their own home, but still hope to have another wedding in the future.

"I do want to see my bride in a wedding dress," Muhammed said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.

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