Jessica Bell MPP, University–Rosedale

Government of Ontario

Protecting the public interest and confirming the status of the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries as a public trust

Published on May 22, 2020

This week I joined with Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath and fellow Toronto NDP MPPs in sending a letter to Premier Ford concerning an important issue brought to my attention by Friends of Toronto Public Cemeteries. This volunteer group of Torontonians, mostly based in my riding, have been fighting tirelessly for many years to keep cemeteries in our city as public trust land, accessible and accountable to the public and province.

MPGC was established by provincial statute in the 1800s as a public trust, funded by charitable donations from regular people. It operates 10 cemeteries in Toronto, Vaughan, Thornhill, Pickering, Richmond Hill, Brampton and Oshawa. These cemeteries are the resting place of generations of Ontarians.

However, in the more than 150 years since MPGC was established, its founding legislation has never been properly updated.

In the absence of legislative clarity, the MPGC board has recently chosen to interpret its mandate as that of a private commercial corporation, rather than a public trust founded for charitable purposes. It has blocked the public from holding it accountable, while increasing executive compensation.

As a result, eight private individuals have effectively taken personal control of 1,222 acres of public land across the GTA, claiming the power to sell public assets worth billions and distribute the proceeds as they see fit.

An alarming Court of Appeal decision last week found that there was no legislative barrier to stop the MPGC board from using these public assets for private purposes. However, the decision makes it clear that the provincial Legislature has the power to provide legal clarity about MPGC’s status.

I join my colleagues in urging the government to work with the Official Opposition to review MPGC’s governing statutes, and quickly pass updated legislation to confirm MPGC’s status as a public trust accountable to the people.

Read the full letter here.