Spirit Quest


Toronto lies on historical migratory flight path
Where skyscrapers take out up to a million birds a year
By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

The bodies of dead birds were scattered over the plaza among the towers of the financial district of Toronto. It had been a bad night for the flights from the south. On arrival in Toronto they became disoriented by the lights of the skyscrapers and like 9/11 flew into them but without the lethal intention.

Toronto lies in the heart of one of the busiest migratory bird routes in North America. It is not only Canada’s largest city spreading east and west and far into the north but also upward into the sky. Each year as many as a million birds die in collision with those towers of light.

As I sit with my first cuppa of the day on my balcony I am serenaded by those wonderful songbirds, those that have made it once again past all sorts of barriers that human technology has erected against nature.



Talking with the BBC!
Listen to the Rev. Hanns Skoutajan on the BBC World Service programme, Outlook, in conversation with host Matthew Bannister. Dr. Skoutajan discusses his eperiences as a refugee and his later work meeting newcomers and encouraging refugee sponsoships.
Click here to listen to the program, or paste http://www.bbc.co.uk/search/?q=skoutajan into your browser and look for programs dated June 22 and June 25, 2011.

I can’t really call myself an outdoorsman although I love the great outdoors. I feel fortunate to be living in an area of the city that is well wooded, so much so that from the air houses, even the mansions of Rockcliffe are scarcely visible. Within half an hours’ drive from my home I can be swimming in the pristine waters of the famous, or infamous, depending on your politics, Meech Lake. 

Gatineau Park is laced with copious hiking trails and in the winter it is a skiers’ paradise. It is wild country. Recently on my way to the beach a deer crossed the road in front of me and quickly melded into the foliage. On my return trip two black figures emerged from the woods, a mamma bear and her cub. They ambled slowly over the road and disappeared into the forest.

Here we are so close to nature and it is particularly troubling that so much of that nature has become endangered. Indeed, we are all endangered species.

On the other hand it is reassuring that the public is not taking the bad news lying down but are vigorously fighting back. Christine Bentham, a long time supporter of Ecojustice writes, “What a tragedy that beautiful songbirds are dying because of our obstructive buildings. I wholeheartedly support Ecojustice in its legal efforts to salvage the remaining bird population.”

The City of Toronto’s Bird Friendly Development Guidelines specify that retrofitting windows with transparent film will solve much of the bird problem. “Where there is a will there is a way,” applies. 

Unfortunately the environment has fallen far down on the list of priorities for politicians. Birds and deer don’t vote or send cheques to enhance the politician’s war chest. But this isn’t true for Canadian citizens generally.

However, the very people that Canadians elect seem disinterested. For instance, Ontario has dealt its woodland caribou herds a blow, granting exceptions to forestry, mining and hydro, among other industries, giving them full access to caribou habitat, even though the species was flagged as a “fast track” species for protection.

There are laws on the provincial and federal statute books that are meant to protect nature. The Canadian Environment Assessment Act, brought into law in 1992, is Canada’s single most important environmental law. Its purpose is to ensure that projects are carefully reviewed to ensure that they do not cause significant adverse environmental harm, to ensure opportunity for public participation and to encourage only sustainable development.  

Laws are important, but as has been popularly said: where there is no plaintive, there is no judge. In other words there must be public vigilance and if necessary loud outcry against transgressors. This means that all of us who enjoy nature cannot remain silent. Of course, there are the Batemans and Suzukis, well known advocates for the environment, but their efforts, by no means in vain, need to be backed by the voices of the thousands across the land. As well organizations dedicated to preservation such as Ecojustice and internationally Greenpeace, need funds. While there is no taxation to support their efforts. They manage to carry on important work.

As I drive out to the lake I am increasingly conscious of the precarious nature of the environment. The “enemy” is everywhere. The songbirds, the sun glistening on wet leaves, the sparkle of the water and the still clear sky speak to me and call for vigilance.

Our First Nation People have still some vestiges of the importance of nature in their religions. The white settlers came to exploit man, beast and environment. But in religions there has been an awakening. There is what is known as “pan-en-theism”, as distinct from pantheism, which worships everything as a god. On the other hand panentheism recognizes that God is in everything. We walk on holy ground.

I believe that the Great Spirit lives in all creation and that we are part of this web of life. Let the Spirit be heard.

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