Toronto considers clampdown on clothing donation bins after homeless woman’s death

The city is being urged to more strictly regulate clothing donation bins after a woman was trapped and died in one last winter.

In a report to next Tuesday’s meeting of the licensing committee, staff suggest forcing bin owners to prove that their boxes are safe before they’ll be issued with a permit to operate one.

“Add a provision requiring applicants to provide a signed statement from a third-party professional engineer stating that the engineer has reviewed the design of the box, considered the potential safety risks, and determined that the box appropriately mitigates potential injury,” the report recommends.

In January, Crystal Papineau, died after becoming trapped in the chute of a clothing donation bin while homeless near Bloor Street and Dovercourt Rd. She was the eighth person in Canada to die in a clothing box since 2015.

Shortly thereafter, bin manufacturer Rangeview Fabricating, of Hamilton – began voluntarily retrofitting its donation boxes, in Toronto and across the country, to ensure no one could become trapped.

No regulations on safety measures

But that company only supplied about 60 per cent of Toronto’s 583 legal donation bins, and city staff admit no one’s sure just how many of the others have been made safer.

The city charges a permit fee for every donation box as way of keeping tabs on where each of the bins is located. But they are not regularly checked for safety, according to Mark Sraga, the director of investigations for municipal licensing and standards, partly because, at present, there are no regulations that dictate safety measures.

That’s something that would change if councillors adopt the staff recommendations.

“Some boxes may not have the same anti-theft devices (like) the the one where this tragic accident happened,”  said Sraga. “To say that every box is unsafe is making an assumption that they all have the same anti-theft design feature on their chutes and I don’t believe that’s the case.”

About two-thirds of the city’s legal donation bins are operated by religious organizations or other non-profit charities, and the report also calls on the city to start charging those charities for a business license before they’re allowed to place a bin.

That way, staff say, the city would be able to regulate a charity’s use of drop boxes with the same rigour that businesses face.

Fees going up

At present, charities pay a permit fee of about $115 per bin. If they’re charged a business license fee as well, they’d also be paying $440 initially and $185 a year thereafter.

One of the charities with the most clothing donation bins, Diabetes Canada, emailed a statement to CBC Toronto Tuesday about the proposed changes.

“We were the first charitable organization to retrofit and have tested all of our donation bins across Canada in an effort  to prevent injuries to those misusing or trying to enter its clothing donation bins,” the statement reads. “We are concerned about increased administrative costs, but look forward to a further review and the opportunity to comment.”

200 illegal bins city-wide

As well as legal, permitted bins, Sraga says his staff have estimated there about 200 illegal bins, sometimes made of wood, scattered around the city.

They’re now in the midst of tracking down and removing the illegal boxes, Sraga says.

For Coun. Jim Karygiannis, vice chair of the licensing committee, the unregulated boxes can’t disappear fast enough.

“Those could end up being dangerous, not only for people who go in to look for clothing, but for kids playing who might just drop in,” Karygiannis said.

“I’m distraught about this when boxes appear overnight. Are these for charity? Are these for profit?”

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