Can Toronto school board seize land from residents?

A toy bulldozer moves a house. Stock photo by Getty Images

In a decision you might think would be obvious and unnecessary, a newly-released report says it’s unfair to bulldoze 30 Toronto homes to build a new school.

That’s the conclusion of an inquiry officer who evaluated an expropriation battle between homeowners and the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

The board needs a new location for St. Joseph’s high school, which sits on leased land. Last February, it asked 30 residents in nearby townhouses if they’d be willing to leave, but most were not.

It then began considering expropriating the land, at which point residents hired a lawyer and the ensuing talks led to this week’s report, which said “the taking of the above-noted lands is not fair, sound and reasonably necessary in light of other viable alternatives."

It would be legal, though. Ontario’s Expropriation Act allows public agencies like school boards to simply take land without the owner’s consent, so long as the “approving authority” OKs it. In this case, the school board’s approving authority is — wait for it — the school board.

Fortunately, an expropriation isn’t just: “We want this land, so scram.” The party doing the expropriating has to pay the landowners a fair value as determined by the law. That varies according to each province’s act, but in Ontario, includes:

  • the market value of the land;
  • damages resulting from the disturbance;
  • any special difficulties in relocation.

The TCDSB had offered market value for the homes, but that wasn’t enough for the residents.

Although this report thoroughly rejects the board’s “unnecessary and unreasonable" plan, it can still take the heavy-handed approach and seize the land anyway. The law only requires the expropriator to “consider the report” and still make its own decision.

The board still has an option to build a smaller school that doesn’t require razing homes, or simply build somewhere else. Will educators make the smart move?

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