Men ask court to overturn town's decision to keep 'swastika' in street name

A Swastika Trail sign is seen in Puslinch Township, about 75 kilometres west of Toronto, in this undated handout photo. Two residents of a southwestern Ontario town are asking a court to overturn the municipality's decision to keep the word "swastika" in the name of a local street, arguing the term is offensive to many. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Horton

Two residents of a southwestern Ontario town are asking a court to overturn the municipality's decision to keep the word "swastika" in the name of a local street, arguing the term is offensive to many.

The Township of Puslinch decided not to change the name of Swastika Trail in December after a group representing residents of the privately owned street voted in favour of maintaining the name.

Randy Guzar, who lives on Swastika Trail, and William Knetsch, who lives nearby, filed an application for judicial review this week, asking a court to quash the township's decision and the result of the vote by the Bayview Cottagers' Association.

"Given the evils associated with the swastika, Swastika Trail's name is a matter of significant controversy and is offensive to many on the street, in the Township, in the province, and nationally," the men argue in their application.

The township's decision to keep the name was unreasonable, the men claim.

"The Township relied exclusively on the result of the Nov. 1 vote — a vote which ... was plagued by procedural errors and was not even conducted in accordance with the Cottagers' Association Constitution," their application alleged.

Puslinch's chief administrative officer and clerk, Karen Landry, said in an interview that the township followed the processes of the Municipal Act on the matter. The town council will review Guzar and Knetsch's legal application before deciding what course of action to take in response, she said.

Bayview Cottagers' Association President Donna O'Krafka declined to comment on the legal action, but said she does not believe a name change for Swastika Trail is necessary.

Swastika Trail was named in the 1920s before the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, local residents have said. Those in support of keeping the name have argued the swastika had a long history as a symbol of peace prior to the Second World War, but others have argued the name is now associated primarily with hate and genocide.

The street in Puslinch is owned by a numbered corporation controlled by a man who lives on Swastika Trail, Guzar and Knetsch's legal application says.

The men claimed in their application that when they attended the meeting of the Bayview Cottagers' Association last year, they did not know that they would be voting on the trail name issue, or that the township would treat the result of that 25-20 vote as "binding and determinative."

The association only allowed members who live on Swastika Trail to vote on the issue, contrary to the group's constitution, the men alleged.

The association's notice of the meeting was "one-sided and tainted by bias," containing a link to an article about the history of the swastika before its use by the Nazis, and a list of over 30 items — such as driving licenses and passports — that residents would have to have updated if Swastika Trail received a new name, Guzar and Knetsch alleged in their application.

They also argued that no one in favour of changing the trail's name was allowed to contribute to the notice circulated in advance of the vote, or the agenda of the meeting at which the vote took place, though they acknowledged that Guzar was allowed to read a letter from a Jewish advocacy group opposing the street's name at the meeting.

Association executives also distributed pamphlets to members arriving at the meeting, urging them to "reclaim the swastika" and reminding them that the swastika has been a sign of peace for hundreds of years, the application said.

Guzar and Knetsch alleged in their application that the township "abdicated its responsibility under the Municipal Act and exercised no independent judgment," in allowing the cottagers' association vote to determine the name-change issue.


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