Last week, a justice of the peace in Toronto ruled that a local building owner would’t be penalized for the deaths of 900 birds that had crashed into its gleaming towers over the course of two years.
The suit, brought by the environmental groups Ecojustice, had sought to hold the former owners of the Consilium Place high-rise towers responsible for causing bird deaths in a city that appears to be particularly lethal for winged migrants.
Building windows reflect surrounding nature and objects, disorienting birds. They crash into the buildings’ sides, raining down onto the streets, where citizen volunteers collect their crushed bodies.
The justice of the peace, William G. Turtle, ruled that the towers had indeed caused the deaths, but that the owner was not at fault. He argued that in order to be considered “cruelty to animals,” the harm would have to be deliberate. He also argued that the light drawing the birds to the windows was not a form of pollution because light is essential to all life.
Albert Koehl, lawyer for the case, said in an email that “an appeal is likely.” He pointed out that sand has been ruled a contaminant in the past. He also said that in his interpretation the building owner could be found at fault for being negligent.
Ecojustice says that the changes that have happened in Toronto since it brought the suit have been heartening. In the glare of publicity, the Consilium Place buildings’ new owners have applied tiny white dots to its windows, which has helped some. Only 200 birds have crashed into the towers this year.
Still, Toronto as a whole is an avian death trap. Built on the edge of Lake Ontario, it’s right in the way of migratory flight paths. According to the New York Times, the leader of the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) —a citizen group that patrols the downtown for injured and dead birds—once gathered 500 dead birds in a single morning.
A decision in a similar suit brought by Ecojustice is expected in December. The decision from last week’s case doesn’t create any precedent for the next decision, which will decide whether owners of the Toronto-Dominion Center are responsible for bird deaths. Since the suit was brought, the owners have added dots to their windows. Their dots are black rather than white, so as not to detract from the building’s architectural beauty, and are less visible to birds.
Ecojustice hopes for a different verdict in that case.
Pain in the Glass
Each migration season, millions of birds die in cities by crashing into buildings. Now a growing trend toward sustainable design could open the door to safer passage.
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