Breaking Bylaws: Fireworks are actually illegal almost all of the time

Breaking Bylaws: Fireworks are actually illegal almost all of the time
By Melissa Wilson
OpenFile Toronto (OpenBlog)
June 26, 2012

They just don’t do fireworks displays like they used to.

Now, this could be because the cost of fireworks seems to be increasing to stratospheric levels, but it could also be because the City of Toronto has some pretty intense bylaws regarding the sale and use of fireworks.

The primary reasons behind the bylaws — Chapter 466 of the Municipal Code — are for safety, according to Frank Lamie, deputy chief of fire prevention and public education with Toronto Fire Services, but the practical effect of it makes the discharge of fireworks illegal almost everywhere, almost all the time.

According to Chapter 466, “no person shall discharge any family fireworks in the City except on the designated days of Victoria Day, Canada Day or any day for which a special occasions fireworks discharge permit has been applied for and issued by the Fire Chief.” There is, fortunately, an exception made for poor weather, when fireworks can be set off a day before or after the designated days.

So that covers “almost all the time.”

Beyond that, there’s another provision in Chapter 466 that states that it’s a no-go to set off any fireworks on any land other your own private property, or someone else’s if the owner has given you express permission to do so.

“The main thing,” says Lamie, “is that kids were using fireworks in the parks, and they were shooting roman candles at each other. They’re the ones that shoot little balls straight up, so when you use them horizontally, it’s like shooting a bullet.”

(The bylaw also prohibits setting off fireworks within 100 metres of a religious institution, school, hospital or nursing home, and by anyone that doesn’t have a proper fire extinguisher nearby, though this does seem like common sense.)

So if you’ve been wont to set off fireworks in the parking lot of the local elementary school, you’ve been breaking the law, and if you’re one of the almost half of Torontonians who rent, you’re very likely out of luck when it comes to finding a kosher place to set off some fireworks.

To complicate matters further, even if you are able to find someone to allow you to set them off on their property, another provision of Chapter 466 dictates that “no person shall discharge fireworks in a manner contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions,” and according to the Toronto-based Rocket Fireworks, that means setting them off in a clear area no smaller than 30 metres by 30 metres for aerial fireworks (roman candles) and 20 metres by 20 metres for ground-based fireworks (fountains). Do you know anyone with a backyard that large in Toronto?

And that covers “almost everywhere.” Did I just ruin your Canada Day plans? Apologies.

(FYI: Sparklers don’t count under the bylaw, because they’re “so widely available and not considered in the same category as fireworks that project something,” says Lamie. So go to town — carefully — on those.)

Chapter 466 is particularly harsh on vendors as well, requiring them all to have a valid permit for the sale of fireworks and to store them safely and print proper use instructions on every item sold. Temporary permits are available, but only permit the sale of fireworks in the seven days leading up to Victoria Day, Canada Day and Diwali. Lamie says making sure the fireworks for sale are stored and handled safely is really the main reason for the bylaw, with the provisions for individuals being of less concern.

Similar to the street hockey bylaw, which is also rooted in public safety, the main goal on this one is awareness, so if you happen to be caught unaware and letting off fireworks at an inappropriate time or place, but not being totally stupid or dangerous about it, chances are you’ll only get a stern warning. “We don’t do stringent enforcement right off the bat, because we know people have to be aware,” says Lamie.

Don’t tempt fate, though, because unlike most bylaws where you can be issued a ticket and a fine, or a formal charge, breaking the fireworks bylaw will only ever result in the latter, where the fine will be set by a judge, to a maximum of $5,000. And frankly, fireworks cost enough as it is.

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