Decision to Remove Dangerous Tree Upheld

Corporation of the District of Saanich v. Furber et al. 2012 BCSC 1824

This case involved a decision by Saanich to remove a 100-year-old Douglas Fir tree located on a highway boulevard.   The tree was infected with a fungus that caused rotting of the roots and core of the tree.  The tree outwardly appeared to be healthy, but assessment by Saanich of the condition of the tree concluded that it was unstable and at risk of falling.  Within a 100-foot radius of the tree were two houses, two transit shelters, a pedestrian sidewalk, public utilities, and a well-travelled public roadway creating a significant risk of injury or property damage if the tree were to fall.

Some residents who lived near the tree disagreed with Saanich’s decision to remove the tree and endeavored to obtain assessments showing the tree could be saved.  They were unable to obtain these assessments in a timely fashion and Saanich decided to remove the tree before the onset of the winter storm season, when high winds could increase the risk of the tree falling.

When Saanich attended the site to remove the tree, some residents had set up lawn chairs around the tree and refused to move when asked to do so.  The residents alerted local media and started a website to garner support for their cause and to raise donations to pay for additional tree assessments.  They also threatened to start injunction proceedings against Saanich for more time to obtain further assessments of the tree.

Saanich commenced its own application for an injunction preventing interference with removal of the tree, relying upon section 153 of the Community Charter.  Some residents opposed the application on several grounds, including that Saanich owed a duty to consult when deciding to remove trees located on public property.

The court granted Saanich’s injunction application, holding that the decision to remove the tree was a reasonable exercise of Saanich’s duty to remove hazardous trees that cause a public safety risk.  The Court further agreed that Saanich had no duty to consult with area residents regarding removal of a tree on its own property.  The Court held that the residents’ claim was completely without merit and Saanich was awarded its legal costs of the application.

This decision falls in line with similar injunction cases in holding that when public safety is at the forefront of a statutorily authorized decision, a local government must be free to carry out the duty to protect the public in whatever way it reasonably sees fit to do so.