It's not a terrorist bunker, an underground grow-op, or even a survivalist's hideout. In the end, the mystery tunnel near York University turned out to be a "man cave" dug by a pair of men in their 20s, neither of whom will be charged with a criminal offence.
Despite the police revelation Monday that there was nothing nefarious planned for the hole next to the Rexall Centre, questions remain about whether the city or the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), which owns and manages the land, should pursue trespassing charges to deter other would-be tunnellers.
Police typically don't lay charges in property cases. "It would definitely be up to the property owner to pursue trespassing charges," said municipal lawyer Ron Kantor, who noted that anyone who wants to dig a large hole or build a structure needs a city permit.
Ever since the tunnel was revealed last week, triggering global media attention and widespread speculation about its purpose, police have insisted that it's not illegal to dig a hole. But, as Victor Kwong, a Toronto police spokesperson, told CP24, "[Y]ou can't just go into a park and dig a hole."
"It's possible," Toronto lawyer Jack Siegel said, "that this [situation] is so bizarre that the law doesn't anticipate it."
TRCA spokesperson Rick Sikorski said police didn't notify the agency about the outcome of its investigation and wouldn't comment about whether there should be trespassing charges.
But area Councillor Anthony Perruzza said he found it "somewhat bizarre" that the men wouldn't face legal consequences for digging a large concealed tunnel on public land, and added that council will have to turn its attention to the issue of deterring others from doing the same thing in city parks.
"We'll probably be looking at that and figuring out where we go from here," he said. "Clearly the Toronto Region Conservation Authority should be looking at that. Should we be posting signs saying, 'You can't dig holes in our land?'"
After asking the public for tips last week, investigators homed in on the two men but concluded they weren't survivalists and hadn't realized that they weren't supposed to dig holes in parks. "It literally was these two guys who had an idea to create a place for themselves to hang out in," Constable Kwong told The Canadian Press. "You think about a kid making a fort, digging a hole – add 15 years to that."
"The purpose of our investigation was to determine if there was any criminal intent and whether there was any threat to the people or the City of Toronto," police spokesman Mark Pugash added. "Our investigators have determined there is neither." He said it would be "entirely inappropriate" to provide personal information about individuals not charged with an offence.
In general, when TRCA enforcement officers find someone engaged in activities not permitted on the authority's property, such as illegal logging, officials seek to negotiate a resolution and remediate any damage, according to Mr. Sikorski.
In this case, police investigators filled the hole at some point in the last month, not long after the entrance to the cavern was discovered near a relatively fresh pile of dirt in a woodlot metres from the tennis courts outside York's Rexall Centre, one of the venues for this summer's Pan American/Parapan Games.
With a report from The Canadian Press