Fireworks ban triggers explosive response at Milton Council

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Published November 2, 2023 at 3:29 pm

Diwali celebrations
Diwali celebrations

The delegates arrived in numbers to oppose Milton’s bid to ban the sale and use of consumer fireworks in the town, with concerns raised from “excessive clearance requirements” to equating taking away to right to celebrate Diwali with fireworks with “taking the Christmas tree out of Christmas.”

The delegates left disappointed, with Milton Council voting unanimously last week to ban the sale, distribution and use of fireworks, with fines of $800 for transgressions.

Milton Fire Chief Peter Gatto released a lengthy report on the issue and noted that because of the size requirements to let off fireworks in backyards just two consumer permits were issued last year, and both of those were in rural locations.

“That means all the other fireworks displays were in contravention of our by-laws,” the Chief told Council.

Gatto said there are plenty of safety issues with consumer fireworks displays, noting that fireworks are “explosives in untrained hands.”

“No one wants to see anyone get hurt or property damaged.”

Aleen Kanji, the Chief Advocacy Officer for the Canadian National Fireworks Association, told Council a blanket ban would be “dangerous” because it simply drives the sales of fireworks to the “underground market.”

“We’ve seen that in other markets like Caledon.”

Kanji, noting the large Indian population in Milton, said the annual Diwali holiday is a “celebration of light over darkness” and said the by-law should be “welcoming” to all residents.

Paresh Soni, who was representing the Hindu Legacy advocacy group, disputed Gatto’s claims that fireworks posed a threat to public safety and asked councillors to look at the matter “objectively.”

“Backyard fireworks are not dangerous,” he said. Adding that taking fireworks away from the Diwali celebration is like “taking the Christmas tree out of Christmas.”

“I think this going to affect the community quite a bit.”

Gatto did admit that enforcing the ban will be a problem. “Even with a ban it will be difficult to enforce,” he said, as by-law officers must witness the fireworks being set off and be able to identify the people involved.

Gatto said the National Fire Protection Association encourages people to leave fireworks to the professionals as consumer use of fireworks across North America results in “thousands of injuries annually, property damage and even fatalities,” though there has been no documented case of a fireworks-related death in Canada.

“We’re not banning fireworks here. We’re banning consumer fireworks displays.”

Consumer fireworks had been permitted on Victoria Day, Canada Day, Diwali and Chinese Lunar New Year between dusk and 11 p.m. The minimum clearance requirement for aerial fireworks is 30 x 30 metres, or about half and acre of land free from building, shrubs, and overhead wires.

Those requirements limited legal fireworks displays to less than one per cent of urban Milton.

A total ban of consumer fireworks sales, Gatto said, should help reduce the illegal use of fireworks and subsequent complaints, adding that recent changes to fireworks regulations in neighbouring Brampton and Caledon have resulted in both fewer complaints and fewer sales.

Complaints also often trigger emergency responses, which incur costs to the Town and divert fire vehicles and staff from “real emergency” incidents, he added.

“I’ve heard enough from the public,” said Councillor John Challinor, who wants the Town to encourage more professional fireworks displays. “The time has come.”

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