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I suppose it goes without saying that public sector strikes are nasty, unpleasant, and put the public interest at risk. The striking workers are normally on the public payroll because the public needs their services, and that public need is precisely the source of their bargaining power. Nevertheless, I find it astounding that striking garbage workers are going to such lengths to block municipal attempts to comply with the orders of the medical officer of health to control pests at temporary garbage dumps.

Filling up public parks with garbage is a dreadful alternative to proper garbage disposal, though better than letting it pile up everywhere in the streets. In addition to the nauseating smell, garbage creates a significant public health risk. Those who live next to the temporary dumps deserve the thanks and appreciation of all their fellow citizens. They also deserve every possible precaution to protect them from the diseases that garbage spreads. This is the responsibility of the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, and he is doing everything he can to fulfill it.

To protect neighborhood residents from insect borne and rodent borne diseases, Dr. McKeown has ordered the city to spray certain dumps, such as the Christie Pits, with pesticides. Few people want pesticides sprayed in their neighborhood, especially where they may contaminate drinking water and children’s playgrounds. This is precisely why Toronto was a pioneer in banning the cosmetic (unnecessary) use of pesticides. But this is hardly a case of disliking the look of dandelions. Dr. McKeown has ordered the city to spray because he believes it’s necessary to protect public health, balancing the health and environmental risks of pesticides against the diseases carried by flies and rats.

The city has no choice but to comply with these orders. Why then are the strikers harassing the pesticide operators, as described in the daily newspapers? Do they really want to unleash the very epidemic that the medical officer of health is trying to prevent? What part of their workplace dispute makes this a legitimate action?

At Christie Pits, the city had to obtain an injunction requiring the union and some neighbours to allow the sprayng to go ahead. The neighbours gave passionate evidence about the environmental harm posed by pesticides, but neither the city nor the court had any real alternative. If the medical officer of health says they have to spray, they have to spray. It would, of course, be far better to get the garbage out of the parks. Too bad the medical officer of health can’t, or won’t, order that.

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