An Ontario township was within its rights to maintain the name of a street called Swastika Trail, despite the passionate objections of some residents, Divisional Court has ruled.
In its decision, the panel found no reason to interfere with Puslinch council’s votes against changing the name of the private road.
“Council’s decision was evidently disappointing to the applicants and likely does not accord with the beliefs of many Canadians,” Divisional Court said in its ruling. “(But) there is no basis for finding that council’s decisions were unlawful.”
Swastika Trail, near Puslinch Lake in central southwestern Ontario, was named in the 1920s. The road is owned by a private corporation controlled by Paul Wyszynski, one of the 54 residents who live on it. However, the trail runs into a municipal road and is used as a public thoroughfare.
In response to several complaints about the name, the township asked staff in June 2017 to report on a possible change. Staff recommended a change with the consent of residents on the road but Wyszynski opposed any change.
Council did pass a resolution to “encourage” the Bayview Cottagers Association — comprising 82 members, 54 with homes on Swastika trail — to consider a renaming but a majority of the organization voted to keep it.
After hearing from several delegations at a heated meeting in December 2017, council voted 4-1 against any name change.
Two residents, Randy Guzar and William Knetsch, sought a judicial review of the township’s actions. They and others in the area argue the swastika is a symbol that has “represented hatred, white supremacy and anti-Semitism” since the Second World War.
Guzar, who has lived on the road for the past 18 years, said he associates the swastika with the bigotry and genocide of the Nazis.
“He does not want to be linked with the symbol, and he says that when he presents his driver’s licence or health card, he is routinely asked if he is a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi,” court said in its decision.
Among other things, Guzar objected to how the cottagers association held its vote, including distributing a pamphlet about the positive history of the swastika before the Nazis used it.
Legally, he and Knetsch argued council had illegally based its decision on what the association wanted. The township argued it made its own decision. Divisional Court sided with the township.
“There is no doubt that, to many people in Canada in the 21st century, the swastika is an abhorrent symbol, reminiscent of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis,” the court said. “However, the discrete issue raised on this application is whether council for the Township of Puslinch acted lawfully when it voted not to change the name of the road.”
On that point, the court said, the record clearly shows council did not simply defer to the cottagers association but considered various options before deciding as it did.
In the war era, the city of Berlin, Ont., changed to the existing Kitchener, while the community of Swastika in northern Ontario changed to Winston. However, residents of Swastika, named in about 1908, objected and the original name was kept.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press