Clothing donation bin operators begin to remove anti-theft bars

January 11, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

In the days after 35-year-old Crystal Papineau was found dead in a clothing donation bin near Dovercourt and Bloor, Mayor John Tory is asking the city to speed up a review of the city’s clothing donation bin permitting system.

However, according to a review that has been underway since 2015, that request may come up short as the City does not require any particular design for the clothing boxes it permits, and does not monitor or inspect the safety of the 460 clothing donation boxes permitted in the City of Toronto.

In a letter sent the day after Papineau was found deceased, Tory urged the General Government and Licensing Committee to speed up the review that is currently underway, asking for it to focus on making sure a similar incident doesn’t happen again.

The trouble with the design for some of the bins is there is an anti-theft component engineered so drop-box door and the inside flap move at the same time. An online piece by CBC’s Andrea Janus includes a video of Vancouver Fire and Rescue’s Jonathan Gormick describing how the mechanism would cause someone to be trapped.

“Because [the donation bin door] is high off the ground, somebody could get their body weight trapped in it, and if their weight shifted, it could rotate in such a way as to bind on them and them not have a way to free themselves… pushing backwards would only make it tighter,” Gormick explains in the video.

The municipal bylaw specifies that the box should be safe, but when asked if Toronto property standards guide the safety of drop boxes or doors not meant for human passage – or if city staff know how many designs are used for these bins, Carleton Grant, Director of Policy & Strategic Support of Municipal Licensing and Standards, says they do not.

“The Maintenance and Safety section under the existing bylaw requires that boxes remain in a state of good repair, meet property standards related to dumping and overflowing bins, and are located in an approved area… As the existing bylaw does not include specifications regarding design standards for the boxes, operators are not required to report the design specifications of clothing drop boxes.”  

With no specifications regarding design standards for clothing drop boxes it’s up to the operators to change the design of the bins, and some have already started.

Alexei Afonine, one of the owners of AMJ Recycling Inc. said they made changes to the boxes that had the anti-theft this week.

Afonine said it’s not difficult to take away the anti-theft bar. “If you have the right equipment… maybe it took five to ten minutes to remove each.”

According to documents obtained by Signal Toronto, there are ten permit operators of clothing donation bins across Toronto, with the most located in the east part of Toronto.

With the exception of Etobicoke North (Councillor Michael Ford), wards with the highest number of bins include Don Valley East (Deputy-Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong), Beaches-East York (Brad Bradford), Scarborough Centre (Michael Thompson), and Scarborough Agincourt (Jim Karygiannis).

Papineau is the eighth person to die in a clothing donation bin in Canada.

Recently, following another death of a man, the district of West Vancouver moved to close donation bins that could be a safety risk.

Earlier this week at a morning news conference, Signal Toronto asked Tory if his request for a review would move the issue forward quickly enough.

“I think the key question [that we hadn’t looked at before] is the safety part. I think the precedent that has been established in Vancouver and elsewhere will help us get to a conclusion on this fairly rapidly.”