Follow the Rules to Keep Fireworks Displays Safe

a child and her family hold sparklers to celebrate a holiday

Long weekends in the summer are traditionally a time to gather with friends and family, and fireworks have been part of the fun in Canada dating back to the 1800's.

Fireworks have been around for centuries. It is believed that they originated in China sometime around 200 BC when bamboo stalks thrown in the fire became overheated and exploded. Several hundred years later, Chinese alchemists accidentally developed the recipe for gunpowder. The powder was stuffed into bamboo shoots and, as time went on, fireworks have evolved to what we know today.

Pyrotechnic displays have been around in Canada for as long as we have been a nation. On July 1, 1867, there were fireworks, military displays and cathedral bells ringing to celebrate Confederation. The next year, Governor General Lord Monck signed a proclamation requesting all citizens across Canada to celebrate July 1. In 1879, July 1 became a statutory holiday known as Dominion Day, before officially becoming Canada Day in 1982.

Since then, in small towns and big cities across the country, fireworks have become an integral part of Canada Day celebrations. However, in recent years, events such as the pandemic and the threat of wildfires have precipitated the cancellation of pyrotechnic displays. There has also been a growing number of Canadian municipalities that have banned public pyrotechnic shows and the private use of fireworks.

It is important to remember that while fireworks are fun, they can also be dangerous. Each year, thousands of people are treated for burns to the head, face, eyes, ears, arms, hands and legs. Property damage is also a danger. Last year in Central Elgin, Ontario, family and friends had gathered for a going-away party when a firework tipped over and hit a nearby hay barn, causing about $1 million in property damage.

Times Are Changing.

For many years it wasn't unusual for neighbours to gather and set off fireworks in their backyards or out on the street during long weekend get-togethers. Those who wanted something more elaborate could go to a municipal park for officially-sanctioned celebrations. Large Canada Day parties are scheduled again this year, highlighted by festivities on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

The Globe and Mail recently reported that due to increasing noise complaints and the dangers of wildfires, some municipalities have banned the consumer use and sale of fireworks. Since the pandemic, the number of fireworks complaints in Toronto has jumped exponentially, according to the newspaper.

The Globe also states that the number of Ontario fires resulting in an injury, fatality or property damage resulting from fireworks reported to the province's Office of the Fire Marshal is climbing. The office averaged 16 calls a year between 2013 and 2020. In 2021, that number hit 35 and the following year, it rose again to 36.

Ken McMullen, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, told the newspaper that firefighters across the country currently respond to about 700 fireworks calls a year. "This isn't about fun or not," he says. "This is about literally keeping our communities safe."

In the City of Orillia, the public is prohibited from setting off fireworks on any day and organizations hoping to hold pyrotechnic displays must apply for a special events permit. The unlawful discharge of fireworks may result in an inspection fee of $200 paid by the property owner and fines of up to $50,000 for those responsible for setting the fireworks off. 

In Mississauga, city councillors voted in favour of fining individuals a maximum of $100,000 if they are convicted of improperly setting off fireworks on public property or property that is not their own.

In nearby Brampton, the use of personal fireworks is prohibited across the city. Those possessing or using fireworks face a $500 fine, while those caught selling fireworks may be fined $1,000.

If you are planning to use fireworks this Canada Day long weekend, please ensure that you are abiding by the bylaws of your municipality.

Are You Covered in Case of an Accident?

It is not unusual for homeowners to pick up a box of fireworks to set off in their backyard or on their driveway on festive weekends. In the majority of cases, these private pyrotechnic displays go off without incident, but there is always the chance of an accident.

A sudden shift in the wind or poor aim could result in the firework bouncing into a neighbour's backyard, setting their gazebo ablaze. There's a chance that you could hit your own home, causing a fire. Of course, there is also the possibility that someone could be injured by an errant firework.

Home insurance policies cover fire damage, but coverage may not be extended depending on municipal bylaws and the legality of fireworks in your jurisdiction. Home insurance policies generally exclude accidents caused by illegal acts. Even if you are covered, you can expect to pay a deductible when accessing the policy, which on average, is about $1,000 in Ontario.

Stay Safe This Canada Day.

Warning that "injuries almost always result from improper handling and a disregard to safety," the Canada Safety Council (CSC) "believes that the safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend an exhibition show handled by professionals."

However, for those celebrating our nation's birthday at home, the CSC recommends:

  • following the federal and local laws and regulations regarding safe use;
  • purchasing fireworks from a reliable source that sells products meeting safety standards;
  • avoiding illegal explosives or firecrackers and do not make your own;
  • reading the instructions, cautions and warnings on each firework;
  • storing unused fireworks in a closed box away from those being lit and do not smoke around them;
  • setting up outdoors in a clear, open space; 
  • lighting fireworks on a hard, flat and level surface to ensure stability;
  • checking the wind and ensuring it is blowing away from the spectators;
  • supervising children; and
  • having a bucket of sand, a supply of water and a working fire extinguisher on hand.

Only those aged 18 and over should handle the fireworks and should avoid using alcohol or drugs when doing so. If you do choose to handle fireworks, you should ensure to wear protective eyeglasses and gloves, and only light one item at a time. It's important to never lean over the fireworks or hold a lit firework in your hand. You should not attempt to re-light a "dud" firework or a defective unit.

When the show is over, dispose of your fireworks safely. Sparklers remain hot after they burn out and should be immersed in a bucket of sand before disposal. The City of Toronto recommends completely submerging used fireworks in water and soaking them overnight before disposing of them in your garbage bin.

Contact Us if You Have Been Hurt in a Fireworks Accident.

Everyone has a part to play to ensure that their Canada Day celebrations are safe for family and friends. Unfortunately, accidents do happen. A poorly aimed or defective firework can cause permanent injuries that dramatically change your life.

Our personal injury and product liability lawyers in Toronto, Ottawa, Niagara and Barrie serve clients across Ontario and are here to help.

With our commitment to full-circle client care, you can be confident that Gluckstein Lawyers will be there to support you both during and after the life of your personal injury case. Contact us today for a free consultation.


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