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Lawsuit seeks safer skies for GTA birds

The Toronto Star

Jennifer Yang, Staff Reporter

April 8, 2011

Animal lovers are hopeful that an unprecedented lawsuit against the owners of a Scarborough office tower complex will lead to safer skies for birds — in Toronto and beyond.

Thursday marked the first day of hearings against the managers and developers of Scarborough’s Consilium Place, a cluster of highrise towers near Highway 401 and McCowan Rd.

An estimated one million birds die in Toronto every year by flying into the mirrored surfaces of highrises. But in the GTA, Consilium Place is the deadliest when it comes to bird strikes, according to Ecojustice and Ontario Nature, the groups that brought forth the charges.

They allege that between 2008 and 2009, more than 800 birds were killed or injured by flying into Consilium Place.

The trial is taking place in a Scarborough courtroom in front of Justice of the Peace William Turtle.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind, not just in Ontario but across North America, according to Dr. Daniel Klem, an American ornithologist who has been researching bird strikes for four decades now.

“I think this is the first (case) ever,” said Klem, who was an expert witness at the hearing Thursday. “It’s going to hopefully bring worldwide attention to the issue.”

The defendants named in the lawsuit are six related companies associated with Menkes Developments, which bought Consilium Place in 2006. The companies have been charged with discharging a contaminant, namely light, that causes harm to animals and for causing birds to be under distress.

If found guilty, the maximum fine under the Environmental Protection Act is $6 million per day for each day of the offence, said Albert Koehl, lawyer for Ecojustice. The companies were also charged under the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which could translate to a $60,000 maximum fine in the event of a guilty verdict.

Consilium Place kills “significantly more birds” than any other building in the city, said Caroline Schultz, executive director with Ontario Nature.

She hopes a guilty verdict will finally force property owners to take the necessary steps for preventing bird strikes, both on existing buildings and new ones.

“It’s to set a precedent,” Schultz said of the lawsuit. “The most important thing is that it’s recognized that this is not acceptable in the eyes of the law.”

The first day of hearings saw witness testimony from Merle Young, who collected hundreds of broken bird bodies from Consilium Place grounds during her ten years as a FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program) volunteer.

William Malis, a Telus employee who works at 300 Consilium Place, also testified. He described collecting bird bodies on his lunch breaks, sometimes finding large groups of hummingbird corpses together.

Bird strikes are so pervasive at Consilium Place that colleagues habitually close the blinds every time they enter the ground-floor boardroom.

“Everyone closes the blinds at the meetings because we don’t want to see the birds smacking into the windows all the time,” he said.

Klem also testified as an expert witness, describing the many remedies that could help reduce bird strikes, including external films on the windows and covering glass with distinctive patterns.

He said he has spoken with a Menkes official in the past, who told him the cost of stopping the bird strikes would cost about $4,000 per bird life, or “hundreds of thousands of dollars." The hearings continues.

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