GTA fireworks restrictions impact Diwali, Bandi Chhor Divas celebrations

The biggest holidays of the year for many South Asian communities will look a little different in Brampton and Mississauga Sunday night, as the municipalities tighten their rules around fireworks.

Thousands of Hindus, Jains and Sikhs are expected to come together in temples, gurdwaras and homes for worship and celebration — gatherings traditionally filled with light.

And while those in Mississauga will still be able to use fireworks on their own private property, those who wish to celebrate with fireworks in Brampton must do so exclusively at a city-run event after city council voted last year to ban pyrotechnics.

The ban wasn’t the right choice, according to Yudhishthir Dhanrajh, a Hindu spiritual leader of Brampton Triveni Mandir.

“We think the firework ban is a little unfair because we like to use fireworks as part of our celebrations,” he said. 

Hindus celebrate Diwali as the triumph of light over darkness and decorating your own home involving the use of lights is very important to people, Dhanrajh said.

A woman lights candles outside the Hindu Sabha temple, in Brampton, Ont., on Nov. 4, 2021, in observance of the first day of Diwali. Some spiritual leaders are encouraging people to bring light to their celebrations in ways that don’t involve fireworks this season. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The City of Brampton is hosting a Diwali Mela from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, featuring performances and “a dazzling 15-minute fireworks show” at Sesquicentennial Park.

“I am looking forward to coming together as a community to celebrate,” said Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown in a press release. 

The city hosting such an event is “nice,” said Dhanraj. He says he hopes it goes well, but it’s not the same type of experience.

“I know that people will be a little sad this year that they cannot do that in their own homes or in front of their homes, their community,” Dhanraj said, adding that he hopes rules can be reconsidered in future years.

Hundreds of complaints prompted ban

Brampton’s blanket ban on fireworks in public places or private property followed hundreds of complaints to the city last year, particularly during the Diwali period. There were concerns that fireworks were being set off into the early morning hours or too close to home.

Coun. Guratap Singh Toor, who seconded the motion that led to the ban, said during a November 2022 council meeting that councillors, “heard loud and clear … about the issue.”

While council approved the use of sparklers, setting off fireworks illegally now comes with a $1,000 fine.

Similar safety and vexation complaints prompted a months-long review of the fireworks by-law in Mississauga this year. 

While the city chose not to enact a total ban, it limited fireworks to private property on designated days — including Nov. 12 this year and New Year’s Eve until 1 a.m.

Last month, Mississauga council also approved a fine of up to $100,000 for significant fireworks rule violators. The rule change won’t kick in until December. 

“I do think it’s extremely important that we send a message that really we’re not going to stand for it any longer and these fines are going to be significant,” said Coun. Matt Mahoney, who brought forward the motion in Mississauga. 

He says the $100,000 fines are to target “bad actors” who sell illegal fireworks, and those who take over plazas with disruptive or dangerous activities involving fireworks.

Fireworks alternatives

The rule changes have some looking for alternatives to fireworks.

There are plenty, said Amreet Singh Jassal, general secretary of the Ontario Khalsa Darba, a Sikh Gurdwara in Mississauga.

Sikhhs celebrating Bandi Chhor Divas on Sunday — a holiday celebrating the release of Sikh spiritual leader Guru Hargobind Sahib from prison — used to be keen to light fireworks on gurdwara property, Jassal said.

Ontario Khalsa Darbar, a Sikh gurdwara that many Brampton residents visit often, is hosting Bandi Chhor Divas celebrations on Thursday, with a dedicated team of volunteers to check for proof of vaccination.
Hundreds are expected to flock to Ontario Khalsa Darbar, a Sikh gurdwara, for Bandi Chhor Divas celebrations on Sunday. (Submitted by Amreet Jassal)

However, he told CBC Toronto the gurdwara stopped the practice a few years ago out of safety concerns. He says ensuring safety, and respecting leaders, rules and regulations is important.

“You can light up the candles. You can light up your house,” Jassal said.

He says spending time with your friends and family and thinking about what this holiday is really about should be central.

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