A long-standing controversy surrounding the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries (MPGC) got a new twist Tuesday night, Dec. 18, when residents from the community around Mount Pleasant Cemetery elected one of their own as a new trustee for the MPGC board.
At issue is the community’s contention that the Toronto General Burying Grounds – which resident Margot Boyd said is now known as the MPGC – was set up as a public trust to ensure citizens of Toronto could have a proper burial.
The community argues that the original legislation dating back to the 19th century has never been changed and that the MPGC is still beholden to those laws as a public entity. Under those rules, they say, the group must hold public meetings in which the residents of Toronto are able to vote on a trustee.
“We’re following the legislation to ensure we have a validly elected trustee in accordance with that legislation and then address the situation going forward,” said local resident Pamela Taylor. “Our project is to bring this Crown Corporation back within the purview of the Ontario government.”
The public’s interest in the matter was sparked with the announcement that a visitation centre was being built in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. While the community lost that battle and the visitation centre was built, residents continue to fight.
“The legislation is still on the books and hasn’t been repealed,” Taylor said. “There is a singular lack of transparency (on the part of the MPGC) and a lack of willingness to speak to the community.”
MPGC spokesperson Rick Cowan disputed the community’s claims saying the organization has never been a Crown Corporation.
“The province has no ties to us with respect to any participation on how this organization operates and never has,” he said.
Cowan acknowledged the Toronto General Burying Grounds was deemed a public trust according to a special act in 1826 but said it was converted into a corporation in 1871 and has followed the Ontario Corporations Act since it came into effect in 1907.
“At the time that piece of legislation came to be, we were governed by the rules laid out in that piece of legislation,” he said.
At a public meeting at Christ Church Deer Park, a group of over 20 local residents unanimously elected Boyd to serve as an MPGC trustee. Residents were angry the MPGC selected a new trustee to replace an outgoing member without consulting the community.
According to the research done by residents, the MPGC remains beholden to old legislation and must both advertise to and hold an election with the public to elect any new trustee. Cowan said those rules no longer apply.
“For organizations like ours, directors are elected by Members of the organization,” he said. “Individuals on the board elect that person.” When director Marilyn Field-Marsham stepped down, she was replaced on the board of Mount Pleasant Memorial Services by Anne Sado and on the board of the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries by David Crombie.
Boyd also argued a crematorium on the Mount Pleasant Cemetery grounds is only subject to grandfathered pollution regulations now out of date.
She said the pollutants released by the crematorium are estimated at two kilograms of mercury, 38 kilograms of smog-forming chemicals, 574 kilograms of nitrogen oxide and 112 kilograms of volatile organic chemicals per year. “The community’s crematorium committee has tried to engage MPGC in discussion, requesting a meeting regarding the current situation and potential alternative locations for the crematorium,” she said.
“A letter sent by registered mail from this committee to the people who currently call themselves the board of MPGC requesting a meeting was not even dignified by a response.”
Cowan said the MPGC received the letter and sent a reply asking for the names of working group members in hopes of starting a dialogue but did not hear back.
Cowan noted the crematorium is in accordance with the rules in place when it was built in 1978 and said the MPGC is currently looking to replace the system with one that is 99.9 per cent emissions and particulate-free.
“(The current crematorium) works to the same standard we’ve been working with and monitored over the years by,” he said. “We were hoping construction would have already commenced (on the new crematorium) but we’re waiting for the (Ministry of the Environment) to do a thorough review of the equipment.”
Boyd’s election may have given the community hope, but Cowan said the MPGC will not acknowledge the community meeting. “At the end of the day, this is about two different interpretations of legislation and which one we have to adhere to,” he said.
Despite the disagreement, the community vows to continue to fight.
“We’re in the process of examining our options,” Taylor said. “Suffice it to say, this process is about to get a little more serious.”