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Residents light fireworks along their street during the Victoria Day long weekend in Toronto, in 2010.NATHAN DENETTE/The Canadian Press

An explosive battle is brewing in Mississauga, Ont., over the use and sale of consumer fireworks after its two Peel regional counterparts implemented blanket bans last year.

Fireworks set off in residential neighbourhoods has become an increasing point of contention in recent years with some displays being illegally launched well into the night and in the middle of streets, causing safety issues and property damage. But some cultural groups and industry representatives argue education campaigns and proper staffing for enforcement will lead to a better result than adding more restrictions.

Both Caledon and Brampton city councils voted in 2022 to ban the possession, sale and use of consumer fireworks. Previously, residents were able to purchase and launch them on select holidays until 11 p.m. without needing to pay for a permit, including for Canada Day and Diwali. Several other communities in Ontario are gathering feedback from residents, including London and Whitby, in reviewing their current firework rules.

In Mississauga, councillors say they don’t want to follow in the footsteps of Brampton and Caledon, their Peel Region partners, with a ban, but instead beef up regulations – mainly around the sale of fireworks in an effort to crack down on the issue. A motion passed by council last month calls on city staff to return with a report that would look to increase business licence fees, forbid temporary pop-up shops and reduce the eligible products for sale to less than 15 per cent of currently approved inventory.

Councillor Carolyn Parrish, who brought forward the motion, said during the council meeting that these proposed restrictions aren’t set in stone and will be studied by city officials before presenting any possible bylaw changes this summer. But Ms. Parrish refused to entertain a proposed amendment to a motion that would have removed the restrictions and instead ask city staff to simply look at the issue, meet with stakeholders and bring forward their own recommendations.

“Banning things is easy,” she said in defence of the proposed restrictions laid out in her motion. “This is a serious look at a serious problem.”

Groups opposed to the changes argue the new proposed regulations will hinder businesses by limiting what products they can sell and also raising fees. Tom Zacharias, president of the Ontario-owned and operated Kaboom Fireworks Inc, took issue with a recommendation in the motion to hold the owners of buildings to the same level of financial liability as vendors in the case of an offence, which he argues would scare landlords away from allowing firework vendors in their buildings.

Business licence fees for firework vendors were already increased from $226 to $1,000 in November, and city council’s recent direction is seeking for that to be increased to $1,000 per applicable holiday – amounting to $4,000 annually.

“If it is enacted as written, it will effectively ban the sale of fireworks in Mississauga,” Mr. Zacharias said.

Council’s approach follows growing concerns about the use of fireworks in Mississauga. Ms. Parrish pointed to raucous firework displays during Diwali celebrations in October, including a massive party in a mall parking lot that broke out into fights, as safety issues needing to be addressed.

In Brampton, city councillors unanimously approved a fireworks ban in November after an increase of illegal use. Complaints related to fireworks spiked to 1,491 calls in 2022, up from 492 in 2018, and the city issued more than $38,000 in fines. But the city didn’t see much of an improvement on New Year’s Eve, the first major holiday since the ban was implemented, where 25 complaints were investigated compared with 28 the year prior.

The move to restrict consumer fireworks has gained criticism for the repercussions on communities who celebrate Diwali, typically marked with fireworks by the large South Asian communities in both Brampton and Mississauga.

Several people who presented to Mississauga council said bylaw changes would hinder the ability to celebrate their culture. Councillor Dipika Damerla, the only one to vote against the motion, compared the excitement for children of backyard fireworks celebrations on Diwali to opening presents on Christmas morning. She also challenged that limiting sales to brick and mortar stores would be like restricting pop-up stores for other seasonal products, such as Christmas trees.

“It will not solve the problem with the bad actors because what you need there is education and enforcement. But in the meantime, we’re trying to shut down small businesses,” Ms. Damerla said.

Navdeep Dhaliwal, a Brampton resident who celebrates Diwali, said she doesn’t think her city’s ban is targeting a specific community, but sees it as a step to increase safety and security for everyone. She said the problem had been “getting out of control” over the last several years with fireworks up to four or five times a week during the summer months.

This past Diwali was the climactic event, Ms. Dhaliwal said, with fireworks going on in her community until 4 a.m. and blanketing the streets with thick smoke that lasted well into the morning commute: “We, too, like to have fun with our kids and do a couple fireworks and then call it a night. But this was insane.”

With the ban in place, the City of Brampton has announced that, in future years, it will instead launch a Diwali event with a fireworks show.

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