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City confiscates licensed Xtra box

Homophobic graffiti could mean more box seizures

The recent seizure of newspaper boxes from outside High Park subway station could signal the start of a crackdown on the distribution of publications in Toronto.

On Mar 31, city staff used a news-paper box bylaw passed in December to seize about 30 newspaper boxes, including one of Xtra’s.

“We had a complaint about the boxes and their condition,” says Allan Smithies, the manager of traffic planning and right of way management for Etobicoke-York. “Almost all of them were covered in graffiti and garbage. None of them were licensed, that we were able to find.”

Adrienne DeFrancesco, Xtra’s community relations manager, says a permit was issued for the Xtra box in 2001.

Smithies also says that the city provided notice to the box owners that they were in violation of the bylaw. But DeFrancesco says that the city’s warning notices consisted of a sheet of paper pasted on the box several days before the seizures. She also says that if the city insists on newspaper boxes being free of graffiti, Xtra might lose boxes if someone painted a homophobic slur on them.

Smithies says that under the bylaw publications are required to pay $300 to have their boxes returned. He also says that the city is looking at targeting more TTC stations, which DeFrancesco says could be disastrous for Xtra.

“That’s certainly not in the budget. It’s more than the box costs. We can’t afford it, we just can’t,” she says. “If they do sweep every station, that would be one-third of our boxes.

“The overall feel for me is that the nightmare we were expecting is beginning.”

The bylaw sets out painstakingly specific rules as to where boxes can be placed, none of which the High Park boxes violated, concedes Smithies. While publishers have to be warned about any problems before boxes can be seized, warning procedures are not outlined.

“These are the exact kind of details that we’ve always had concerns about,” says DeFrancesco, adding that to stop people from walking off with boxes, which cost about $100 each, she’s had to instruct Xtra’s distributors to violate the part of the bylaw that prohibits boxes from being chained to utility poles or other structures.

An association of Toronto publications is considering launching a lawsuit against the bylaw. DeFrancesco says Xtra has opted out of such a lawsuit, because it would threaten the one advantage provided to smaller publications. Publications with fewer than 100 boxes — Xtra has 85 — are only charged $25 per box per year. For every box over 100, a publication is charged $100 per box.