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Illegal trash dumpers won't be tolerated, mayor says

There will be no mercy for Torontonians who dump their garbage illegally, not even for those who face long delays at drop-off points blocked by unionized workers in a strike that threatens to continue through the sweltering days ahead.

"It's becoming clear there is a small group of people who are taking advantage of this strike to use Toronto as their personal dumping ground," Mayor David Miller said at his first major news conference since 24,000 inside and outside workers walked off the job early Monday.

"We will not tolerate this kind of activity," he said, warning of fines that start at $380 and could rise as high as $50,000.

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While the mayor praised the "tremendous goodwill" of residents in responding to the largest municipal walkout in Canadian history, tempers flared across the city, and the ill effects of the strike spread well beyond overflowing trash bins.

Centreville Amusement Park, a beloved summer attraction on the Toronto Islands, announced it was shutting down for the duration of the strike, throwing 400 seasonal employees out of work.

In separate incidents, angry drivers allegedly struck pickets outside the City Hall parking garage and at a trash drop-off station on Ingram Drive. Toronto police are investigating the altercations - in which nobody was seriously hurt - but have yet to lay charges, Constable Tony Vella said.

Torontonians who braved the picket lines to deposit their garbage at city-run drop-off points were met by a mishmash of conflicting rules, parking hassles, threats of fines, and at one transfer station in Scarborough, verbal abuse from striking workers.

The mood was particularly hostile at the Scarborough transfer station off Markham Road and Nugget Avenue, where residents waited up to several hours and were forced to walk their garbage in under the watchful eye of a bylaw officer who warned of steep fines for dumping at the gate.

Earlier this week, city and union officials said they would work out a picket-line protocol, but it is not yet in place. Mr. Miller said he would neither "include or exclude" the potential for a court injunction that would enable residents and business owners to cross picket lines in a speedier fashion.

In the meantime, the mayor urged homeowners to postpone a trip to one of the seven depots open for garbage drop-off, if they can, suggesting they first try to store their trash in the garage (as he is doing at his home) for a few days.

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He said the city would open 19 more depots by this weekend if the strike continues so residents have more options to dispose of trash and organic waste.

Toronto councillor and possible mayoral candidate Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) chided Mr. Miller for his tough declaration on dumping, saying it "misses the level of frustration that is out there" among residents.

Since Tuesday was the first missed day for garbage pick-up, Geoff Rathbone, city general manager of solid waste, said "there should not be an immediate need" to use a transfer station.

The labour disruption does not affect residents in Etobicoke and most apartment buildings, which are served by private haulers contracted by the city.

Councillor Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) said the strike, the first in seven years by the Toronto's civic workers, has prompted renewed calls from his constituents for more contracting-out of city services to the private sector. "The public is disgusted with the unions and the city," he said.

At Centreville, the strike will take a more profound toll the longer it lasts.

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The park can't operate without the city workers needed to maintain the public park and washroom facilities - and with the city-run ferry service shut down, the vast majority of would-be attendees are out of luck.

"We can't open until they go back to work," said Centreville communications director Shawnda Walker. Centreville normally operates for 102 days between May and September. Ms. Walker said they're losing about $100,000 for each day the park is closed. The 2002 strike, which shut Centreville down for 17 days, almost bankrupt the company, Ms. Walker said.

Meanwhile, negotiators for the city and two locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees remain at the bargaining table in an effort to reach a deal on five separate agreements that expired Dec. 31.

In a press release, CUPE local 416 president Mark Ferguson, representing 6,200 outside workers, and local 79 president Ann Dembinski, speaking for 18,000 inside workers, complained that city demands for concessions "present a barrier to achieving agreements."

But city manager Joe Pennachetti, maintaining the optimistic tone he has projected since the strike began, said "I am hopeful there will be a quick resolution."

Mr. Miller was more guarded. "I hope we can reach agreement sooner [rather]than later," he said.

He contends the two sides can come together on proposals that are fair to employees and affordable to the city in theeconomic downturn. With a report from Anna Mehler Paperny

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