Fr. Carlos Augusto Sierra Tobon has seen some community backlash to the sign he posted on St. Brigid’s to deal with some unwanted activities on church property. Photo by Joshua Santos

Priest stands by sign: ‘Not a playground!’

By 
  • September 24, 2019

From teens climbing onto the roof to drug use in the parking lot to amorous couples on church lawns, Fr. Carlos Augusto Sierra Tobon has had enough. 

The pastor at St. Brigid’s Church in east-end Toronto is tired of chasing people off the property amid safety concerns.

So with the support of his parish team, he placed two signs on the outside wall of the church.  An older sign reads: “Private Property. Not a Playground! By Law 675-79.” A newer sign says: “Not a public playground.”

The signs, however, have caused an uproar among some residents in a community where children have few places to play. A neighbourhood Facebook page erupted with more than 400 comments, most objecting to the signs.

 But Tobon is unapologetic, saying the signs are the best way to get his message across.

“They have to understand that this is not a playground,” said Tobon. “Some lady said it (the sign) must say ‘Be Respectful’ but no, that’s not the way.”

Tobon said many of the critics are not church-goers and are using the signs “as an opportunity to blame the Church.”

In an e-mail exchange with Tobon, a local resident said the signs were tone deaf, off-putting and rude. He claimed the signs would cause division and conflict and that a simple “please be respectful” sign would help create a feeling of inclusiveness.

However, there were some who backed the priest’s stand. “Too many people have no respect for property. … The church has to maintain the property and with so many people being irresponsible, it costs needless money,” said one Facebook post.

Tobon said it’s important to understand that, after years of neglect, St. Brigid’s has undergone extensive refurbishment that required a lot of planning, money and manpower. 

“People believe that it is a playground,” said Tobon. “We invested money in recuperating the grass and organizing it to make the church appealing and certainly to have people say they love it.”

Tobon lives above the church office and has recorded several incidents with a camera. He has seen people put themselves in dangerous situations on church property and is concerned about safety and liability issues. He said he worries about children playing hockey and skateboarding on the parking lot because cars are coming and going throughout the day.

During an interview, he replayed a video on his iPhone of two children on scooters in the lot. A child, without a helmet, made a big jump and fell hard on the pavement. Tobon wondered where the parents were.

“The church is in the middle of two schools within a distance of 100 metres each, in which the children can play safety because the yards of the schools are fenced. Ours is not,” said Tobon.

In another instance, he spotted teens climbing up the roof to the tallest part of the building.

“A group of teenagers, 16 to 19, were in a competition going up over the roof of my car which was parked in the driveway,” said Tobon. “It was at 11:30 p.m., they were drinking alcohol in the green space between the church and the house, some vomiting and leaving their garbage there.” 

Another time, a teenage couple were spotted at midnight behind a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima. The woman was getting dressed when Tobon saw her through his window and ran downstairs to chase them away. He also saw a middle-aged couple acting in a similar manner and yelled at them to leave.

“How would you cope with these constant situations?” asked Tobon. “How would you feel if these events were happening on property that you were responsible for? 

“If these were isolated cases, no problem, but they continue to happen on a daily if not weekly basis.” 

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I am a parishioner at St. Brigid's as well as a member of the community. There are plenty of places, parks and playgrounds for children to play, such as the St. Brigid's school yard with terrific grounds. East Lynn Park is in close proximity as...

I am a parishioner at St. Brigid's as well as a member of the community. There are plenty of places, parks and playgrounds for children to play, such as the St. Brigid's school yard with terrific grounds. East Lynn Park is in close proximity as well as Earl Beatty's playground and school grounds. Not to mention Stan Wadlow Park and a little more north, Dieppe Park. Whether you like the signs or not, the fact remains that the Church grounds should be respected and that goes for any sacred space. I would also like to add that I have seen Fr. Carlos first hand, after Mass interacting in a lovely way with families with children who walk around, admire the beautiful landscaping in a respectful manner and not even once has Fr. Carlos said one negative comment. It is obvious that these signs are a result of many years of dealing with frustrating situations. Before people misuse social media with ridiculous comments, they should think, maybe even ask WHY. It is unfair to paint a portrait without the real facts. Maybe you should consider interviewing other priests at different Churches to get their take on what they go through and the systems they have had to put up to deal with similar negative antics. You chose to pinpoint one church and wrote a loose article full of holes with no fact checking. Shame on you!

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Josephine
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

As a parent I would worry more about the well being of my child than how a sign is worded. I cannot imagine why any parent allow their child to be subject to the danger of cars coming and going from the parking lot of a church. I would instead...

As a parent I would worry more about the well being of my child than how a sign is worded. I cannot imagine why any parent allow their child to be subject to the danger of cars coming and going from the parking lot of a church. I would instead thank the Priest for taking this action to avoid the many dangers that can occur not only children but also to adults. The problem these days is that many people feel entitled to cause such unnecessary issues when all they need is to use their common sense. There are many beautiful parks and playgrounds in the area where the children can play safely.

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Kathy
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