TORONTO -- Toronto police vehicles are again parking in a public plaza in front of a downtown police station without the city's permission — leaving a former city councillor who fought the practice 20 years ago calling for a permanent solution.

Olivia Chow recalls her motion in 2001 that resulted in a report calling police parking in the square off Dundas Street in front of 52 Division “illegal” — and says it’s a shame the practice has resumed.

“It’s about time. It needs to be solved. It’s a bit of an eyesore,” Chow said. “Where’s Joni Mitchell when you need her? We’re not turning that park into a parking lot, no no no.”

On Tuesday, five police vehicles sat parked behind fencing off Dundas Street. A handful of people sat on a bench eating lunch behind a police SUV.

Commandeering the lot is the 52 Division Unit Commander’s solution to his force’s parking problem. The back parking lot is full. Parking in designated street parking on the West side of the building causes backups amid construction, the force says, and amid the need to have access to the vehicles in an emergency, he decided to put the vehicles in the plaza.

“This allows for the use of the plaza by the public while addressing local traffic concerns,” TPS spokesperson David Hopkinson said in a statement. “It is not ideal but it does strike a balance between the two issues.”

TPS admits they didn’t ask anyone for permission, even from the city, which owns the property. A city spokesperson told CTV News it is “reviewing the history of this location and liaising with Toronto Police Service with an intent to better understand uses of the space as well as its current status, and other potential parking considerations.”

A photo shows police officers parking their personal cars on the property on one day in September. The TPS says that day, their parking lot was under construction.

That’s something that would get any other business involved a ticket and a tow, says lawyer David Shellnutt.

“We’re congested. It’s a busy space. But if the people who are supposed to lead by example aren’t doing that, it’s going to set a terrible example for people across the city,” Shellnutt said.


Police parking comes and goes in the space. Google’s street view shows cars parking there in September 2020. Before that it seems to be a public plaza as far back as construction in 2012. Before that, to 2007, police cars again appear behind fencing.

In 2001, an interim report issued by the city calls the practice “illegal parking in front of 52 Division”, saying the building is set back some 20.5 meters along the frontage of Dundas Street West.

“This setback area is comprised of trees and planter boxes and the boulevard is constructed with interlocking pavers and is frequently used for parking. This parking is not legally authorized. Access is currently gained by an existing ramp off St. Patrick Street although it appears that the vehicles may also be crossing the sidewalk on Dundas Street West to gain direct access,” it reads.

Chow said she hoped the city would explore ‘out of the box’ solutions, from finding a lot nearby to rent, all the way to using the air rights above the building to find a way to get affordable housing in the floors above and a larger police station and parking facilities below.

“Create lots of space. That could be a solution,” Chow said. “Or put more on bikes. The best way is to work together with the community and city hall and celebrate community policing.”

When CTV News visited the plaza, one police car was parked in the spaces that were deemed disruptive — it was the parking enforcement vehicle.

Even if the spaces on the East side can be used, TPS said it’s not planning to vacate the plaza yet, saying another building is slated to be under construction soon.