The PLEA: Crosswalk Cred

The PLEA: Crosswalk Cred

Winter Sidewalks

Making your way through sidewalks can be a challenge in the winter. This is especially true if the sidewalk is icy or packed with snow.

But who is responsible for the snow and ice on the sidewalk? Aside from Mother Nature, that is.

Many columnists, citizen-bloggers and online forum commenters have latched on to a single quote from a 2000 ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal. The court stated that “snow and ice accumulating on public sidewalks . . . are the legal responsibility of the municipality, not the property owner.” By using this quote out-of-context, a misconception has emerged that municipalities are responsible for physically removing snow from public sidewalks.

This is not what the court said.

The court was referring to who was liable for damages if somebody should slip and fall on the ice on a public sidewalk. It was not talking about who is legally obliged to physically remove the snow.

So Who’s Responsible for What?

The removal of snow from public sidewalks in Saskatchewan is determined by municipal bylaws.

For example, in Saskatoon public sidewalks must be cleared by the owner or occupant of the adjoining property.

On the other hand, in Regina there is no bylaw requiring residents to keep public sidewalks clear of snow. Instead, they simply encourage citizens to do this.

What Does the Ontario Ruling Mean, Then?

Municipalities can make whomever they want responsible for snow removal on public sidewalks. They can have public employees shovel the snow, they can make adjacent property owners responsible, or they can do nothing.

No matter who the municipality puts in charge of clearing the sidewalks, this oft-quoted ruling from Ontario is only saying that the municipality is responsible for injuries if someone should slip and fall. The court did not say that municipalities are responsible for removing snow.

So, for example, if you slip and fall on a public sidewalk and incur thousands of dollars in damages, no matter who was responsible for removing it, it is the municipality who you must seek damages from, not the adjacent property owner. (There are a handful of exceptions to this, such as if the sidewalk is being used for such purposes as a restaurant patio or sidewalk sale, or if a property owner allows a roof to drain onto a sidewalk.)

But before you run (or limp) off to sue the municipality next time you fall, do take note that The Municipalities Act in Saskatchewan limits the liability of the municipality to situations of gross negligence. Gross negligence is the legal concept of reckless disregard of a legal duty with respect to the rights of others.

I Just Want a Clear Sidewalk

Regardless of the law, most pedestrians just want a clear and safe path for their winter travels. Some cities, such as Winnipeg and Montreal, have their public sidewalks cleared by the local government, but this comes at a cost. Saskatoon has estimated it would cost $3.3 million annually to clear snow from the over 1,400 kilometres of city sidewalks.

So whatever your preference for who clears the snow from the sidewalk, unless your hometown legislates otherwise, municipalities are not required to shovel the sidewalk in front of your home.


  1. What does the experience of people incorrectly using one line from a court ruling tell us about forming opinions based on sound bites and 140-character-long statements?
  2. As the saying goes, nothing in life is free. Is it better for a local government to:
    1. remove snow and pay for it through taxes, or
    2. ask citizens to remove snow in front of their homes and businesses?

Democracy In Action

Saskatoon's Snow Clearing Bylaw

Saskatoon’s snow clearing bylaw requires residential properties to be cleared within 48 hours of a storm. For commercial properties, it must be cleared within 24 hours. The cleared path needs to be at least 1.2 metres wide and packed snow on the sidewalk can be no more than 1.2 centimetres deep. Fines for not complying range from $100 for a first offence to up to $1000 for repeat offenders.

Even though this is the law, the city does not enforce the fines. Instead, if a complaint is made the city will inspect the property. If the sidewalk does not meet the bylaw’s standards, the resident will be notified. The property is then re-inspected, usually within 48 hours. If the snow is still not cleared, city staff clear the snow. The cost of this clearing—between $100 and $150—is passed on to the property owner.

This practice almost changed in December 2012. Executive Committee of City Council proposed that a seasonal worker be hired to hand out tickets to people who did not clear snow from their sidewalks.

Public reaction was swift and furious.

City councillors fielded hundreds of complaints about the proposal. In fact, the uproar was so loud the story gained national attention on CBC Radio One’s As It Happens. In light of the opposition, council decided not to proceed with its plan to ticket those who didn’t shovel their snow. Instead, the city carried on with its existing policy.


  1. What does the change in stance from Saskatoon’s city hall suggest about elected representatives listening to citizens?
  2. Do complaint-driven laws such as Saskatoon’s snow removal bylaw encourage neighbours to snitch on one-another? Would it be more prudent for people to talk to their neighbours before lodging a complaint with the city?