An online petition is urging city council to institute a ban on the private sale and display of fireworks inside city limits, citing safety reasons, pollution and people setting them off illegally in the weeks leading up to and after statutory holidays.
The current city bylaw, which was introduced in 2016, allows for the sale of commercial fireworks in the week leading up to Victoria Day and Canada Day and only permits lighting private backyard fireworks between dusk and 11 p.m. on Victoria Day and Canada Day.
Activists want stronger regulations around the use of pyrotechnics in the city, pointing to environmental concerns over potential injuries, fine particles of heavy metals from smoke, excessive noise that disturbs wildlife, pets and people — and the continuing problem of people setting off fireworks in the days leading up to and after designated holidays.
“There’s been a barrage of fireworks going off at all hours,” said Deanna Ronson, one of the organizers of the petition. “It’s been crazy.”
Fireworks affect wildlife
“Saturday night I think it was nonstop from 9 p.m. until 1 o’clock in the morning,” she said. “All neighbourhoods are dealing with the impact of excessive fireworks right now.”
There are similar petitions asking for similar measures in other Canadian provinces, including Nova Scotia, where nearly 15,000 people have signed an online petition asking the province to ban private fireworks displays.
Some jurisdictions, such as Banff and Canmore Alberta, already have bans in place to minimize the disruption to wildlife in nearby Banff National Park. There, celebrations such as Canada Day use drones or low-altitude silent fireworks.
A 2011 study in the Netherlands estimated that hundreds of thousands of wintering birds flee due to the noise created by New Year’s Eve fireworks.
There have also been studies suggesting the noise can affect people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, including combat veterans, victims of gun violence and refugees who’ve fled war zones.
‘The city has failed miserably,’ says critic
It’s why Ronson is urging the City of London to ban fireworks in the city, or at the very least, step up education and enforcement around the current bylaw.
“It’s my opinion that the city has failed miserably,” she said. “While they do say what days fireworks are allowed, they don’t state what the penalties are and there’s no phone numbers, there’s no address on how to report these violations.”
If convicted of breaking the city’s fireworks bylaw, a first-time offender can receive up to a $5,000 fine, with a fine of up to $10,000 if convicted of subsequent offences.
Matt Hepditch, a deputy fire chief with the City of London fire department, said it’s tough to draw a line on fireworks displays in the city because they are a long-held tradition in Canada.
“We empathize,” he said. “We have a real mix of people who look forward to celebrate, they gather together for fireworks and recently we’ve had more concerns with regards to the environment, pets and people suffering from PTSD.”
Fireworks response ‘really difficult’
Hepditch said how the city enforces its bylaws depends on the circumstances involved and where the complaint originates.
Often, he said, first responders don’t get specific addresses beyond major intersections, especially when it involves someone lighting off fireworks outside designated hours, or in parks or in the middle of the street.
“For us to respond when there is no detail provided is really difficult,” said Hepditch.
“We don’t get specific addresses, so it’s very difficult to follow up on that and if you get someone who is say, lighting off fireworks in a park, to get there, to find those people is very difficult as well because sometimes by the time you arrive the discharge is complete and no one is around.”
This Victoria Day long weekend, Hepditch said, London firefighters were only dispatched to a single call where someone was lighting fireworks off at the park. By the time crews arrived, no one was there and there was no sign of fire or smoke.
London Health Sciences Centre said it had no patients admitted to the emergency room over the long weekend because of Victoria Day misadventures involving fireworks.
“From a fire risk, we don’t have a lot calls for fireworks,” he said, adding there have been very few fireworks that have resulted in a potential fire over the last two to three years.
“It’s a concern because each time we have a complaint, we have to deal with it,” he said, noting that while firefighters are out looking for ne’er-do-wells lighting off roman candles, it takes time away from real emergencies.