About the 2020 Ontario Court of Appeal Decision
Mistruths vs Fact
Appeal Decision Analysis
In May 2020, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled on a dispute between a small group of residents in mid-town Toronto and Mount Pleasant Group (MPG). The disagreement was about the interpretation of centuries old statutes that govern whether MPG is a charity, how we choose our board members and whether we should be permitted to operate funeral homes.
The three-judge panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed all the claims made against MPG.
Why we created this page
Mount Pleasant Group created this page for two important reasons.
First, this legal dispute was a complicated matter involving interpretations of statues that are nearly 200 years old. Understanding and interpreting 19th century laws can be a challenge today, especially when decades of subsequent laws and regulations make things more complex.
The second reason is because the small group of residents who brought this challenge forward have made claims that are not accurate. And while the case has been decided and their claims dismissed, the group continues to propagate inaccuracies and false claims.
What is the Mount Pleasant Group?
MPG owns and operates 10 cemeteries and nine funeral homes in six different municipalities, in Ontario. Our first cemetery was created in 1826 by a group of community-minded individuals who believed that the Town of York (now Toronto) needed a burial ground for all of those who were not affiliated with either the Catholic or Anglican churches. The initial six-acre parcel of land was located at what is now the northwest corner of Yonge and Bloor streets and cost $300. Three hundred individuals each donated $1 to raise the money to purchase the land. Necropolis was the second cemetery to open, followed by Mount Pleasant Cemetery in 1876.
From these humble beginnings, MPG has continued to expand with the population of the city. Today, we look after more than 1,200 acres with $1 billion of assets under our control. All this was done without ever taking a single dollar of public funding from any level of government. It was done through careful and thoughtful management and the oversight of those who have served on our Board of Directors. Over 194 years, our board has always focused on the principles of careful financial stewardship and providing a long-term home for the remains of our clients.
A Brief History of the Legal Dispute
This legal dispute has a long history. In 2006 a small group from the Moore Park neighbourhood opposed the construction of a Visitation Centre at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery. After extensive public consultation, the local community was fully supportive of the Visitation Centre, with the exception of this one, small group which continued to oppose it. The decision by the city to allow the building of the Visitation Centre was challenged at the OMB, and finally, a local funeral home, brought a challenge in the Court of Appeal. At every stage all objections were rejected.
In December 2011 MPGC announced that it would be upgrading all of its existing crematorium facilities, one of which is located at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Still unhappy with the construction of the Visitation Centre, a group of residents decided to oppose the upgrading of the existing crematorium facility at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The upgraded equipment was going to be state of the art and would, for the first time in North America, host a filtration system that would eliminate 99.9% of all emissions. While Mount Pleasant Cemetery had had crematorium facilities on-site for more than 40 years, the group argued against upgrading to the newer more environmentally responsible equipment. An appeal was made to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Resources’ issuance of a Certificate of Compliance for the new equipment. Once again, the objections of were rejected.
In 2013, these residents and others began another campaign of opposition to Mount Pleasant Cemetery. This time, they created an organization called The Friends of Toronto Public Cemeteries (FTPC), and undertook a legal challenge and public campaign to accuse MPG and its directors of not operating under the terms of our charter and implying that it was the intent of the directors to enrich themselves at the expense of the organization.
On May 5, 2020, the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed all of FTPC’s claims and ruled in favour of Mount Pleasant Group on all matters.
What the case was about?
At its core, the legal dispute involved the interpretation of different statues and regulations that govern Mount Pleasant Group. The first of these statutes, which created what would become Mount Pleasant Group, was drafted in 1826, more than 40 years before Confederation. Twelve more statutes were passed in the years that followed, as well as the adoption of the Corporations Act, Cemetery legislation and numerous other laws and regulations that govern aspects of Mount Pleasant Group’s operations.
The Court of Appeal ruled on four items concerning Mount Pleasant Group’s governance and operating procedures.
- Our Board of Directors is appropriately elected and constituted.
The court found that the election of our Directors, in accordance with the 1871 legislation is appropriate and that if Mount Pleasant Group were to follow the 1849 rules it would amount to a governance model based on “pioneering electoral practices” and produce “impractical, unworkable, anomalous and absurd results.”
- Mount Pleasant Group is permitted to operate Funeral Centres on our properties
Here the court determined that operating the funeral homes is “within the ambit of cemeteries or places for the burial of the dead.” The court also noted that this decision aligns with the earlier court decision in 2007 and legislation in Ontario which permits cemeteries to operate funeral homes as part of their businesses.
- Mount Pleasant Group is not a charity.
The court reaffirmed that Mount Pleasant Group is not a charity. Instead, MPG is a statutory trust that has operated as a non-profit-organization for almost two centuries. The court saw no basis to alter this characterization, pointing out that had the Legislature wished to make it a charity it would have, but did not. It also made two other important points in this area:
- First, that the group who brought the legal action forward were seeking to have Mount Pleasant Group declared a charity, purely as a means to an end. The group wishes to use provisions under the Ontario Charities Accounting Act to obtain an order that MPGC be investigated by the Public Guardian Trustee. On this point, the court observed that the PGT has always been and continues to be opposed to an investigation of MPG and the application judge also concluded that there was no basis on which to order an investigation.
- Second, the court repeatedly noted that Mount Pleasant Group is both heavily regulated by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (under the Funeral Burial and Cremation Services Act) and many other bodies, and also that MPG is a well-run and self-sufficient organization.
- An investigation by the Public Guardian and Trustee is not warranted.
As a result of the court’s declaration that Mount Pleasant Group is not a Charity, the cross-appeal by FTCP is no longer applicable.
MPG has been operating for almost 200 years and is guided by an independent and duly appointed and elected Board of Directors who are governed by the same rules of governance that other Ontario Corporations are also required to honour. In the ruling released May 5, 2020, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that MPG was being appropriately governed, that the corporation was operating within its legal boundaries by erecting funeral homes and crematorium facilities on its properties and importantly, that there was no reason to question whether the present directors were not undertaking their fiduciary obligations. There are legal constructs in place that make it impossible for the directors of the company to sell any assets for personal gain and should the operation become insolvent, the assets become the property of the municipalities in which they operate.
All of our efforts and decisions are made to ensure we are able to meet our current and perpetual care obligations to those we serve – those currently in our care and those who will place their trust in us in the future.
A copy of the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling can be found here.