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City staff and police began evicting encampment residents from the park near Bathurst and Dundas on Tuesday morning
City of Toronto staff closed a downtown park near Bathurst and Dundas to the public early Tuesday morning in order to forcibly clear an encampment.
In a statement, the city said workers are enforcing the trespass notice issued on June 12 to people living in Alexandra Park.
Toronto police were on the scene assisting city staff with the clearing. Police said one person was arrested for public intoxication, seven people were arrested for trespassing and a third person was arrested and released after an outstanding warrant was discovered. Three of the people arrested were staying at the encampment, police said.
Officials put up fencing around the park and a journalist from the Toronto Star reported being denied access to the fenced-off area.
Later in the day, the city said in a statement that 26 people were removed from the encampment. Eleven people accepted spots in either a shelter or a hotel program, the city said, and 15 “declined referrals and left the park of their own accord. Workers removed 68 structures from the park, as well propane tanks and gasoline canisters, the city said.
“City staff are in the process of removing structures, including tents and wooden sheds from the park,” the statement reads, adding the plan is to reopen the park as soon as possible. “The City of Toronto is reviewing media access for any future operations of this nature.”
In a statement posted on social media on Tuesday, the Encampment Support Network’s (ESN) Scadding Court committee criticized the city’s move as a being in “complete disregard for human rights and its treaty responsibilities.”
The statement adds that Alexandra Park encampment residents did not want a large public response while being relocated, but a demonstration was to take place nearby at Ryerson and Queen West.
“ESN Scadding is in the park today supporting residents seeking safe passage for themselves and their belongings out of a violent eviction, and bringing food, medical supplies, moving logistics and other resources to support our neighbours and friends,” the statement reads.
Diana Chan McNally, the training and engagement coordinator with the Toronto Drop-In Network, tweeted that at least two people received trespassing tickets that come with a $65 fine and a 90-day ban from the park.
Ottawa-based human rights lawyer Leilani Farha, who has criticized the city’s approach to encampments as going against human rights, tweeted: “There is another way to interact with ppl who are homeless. One that doesn’t involve police w/ guns, private security forces that are unaccountable, fences and barriers, and an Us vs Them, top-down, colonial approach.”
Farha, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, released a detailed roadmap for how cities can handle encampments, the National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada, in March 2020.
TORONTO. There is another way to interact with ppl who are homeless. One that doesn’t involve police w/ guns, private security forces that are unaccountable, fences and barriers, and an Us vs Them, top-down, colonial approach. #HumanRightsNotForce #Dignity #Dialogue https://t.co/783aP2D1C1— Leilani Farha (@leilanifarha) July 20, 2021
Volunteers being thrown out of the kettling cage. How will residents inside be supported to move? Will they be in there alone with police and security? pic.twitter.com/CKZrr8pHcn— Diana Chan McNally (@Diana_C_McNally) July 20, 2021
In a press release, the city said the estimated 28 to 35 people living in the park will be offered indoor accommodation with access to meals, harm reduction and health supports.
“Occupants will be given time to pack two bags of belongings to take with them,” the city said. “All other belongings will be collected and stored for up to 30 days for future pickup. There are more than 60 structures on-site, including tents and makeshift structures.
“The city will officially close Alexandra Park today to allow staff to engage with encampment occupants, encouraging them to accept offers of safe indoor accommodation,” the statement adds. “All individuals will be required to leave the park, which will allow city crews to start removing debris and restoring the grounds.”
Toronto officials consider encampments unsafe and in violation of a municipal law that deems green spaces “private property” of the city.
Police, Toronto Fire Service and Toronto Paramedic Services have responded to 146 service calls in Alexandra Park this year, the city said. There have also been 130 fire events in encampments this year, including two in the past week.
The move comes nearly a month after dozens of city workers, police and private security officers descended on Trinity Bellwoods Park to evict unhoused people who had been living outdoors for months.
A crowd of demonstrators and supporters arrived on the scene in response to calls from activists and several people were arrested, including internationally recognized photojournalist Ian Willms. Housing and human rights advocates heavily criticized the action as out-of-step with international human rights.
People who have been living in encampments during the pandemic have told media outlets that they do not feel safe in the shelter system and temporary hotel accommodations come with restrictions on visitors and curfews.
Update (July 20, 5:50 pm): This story was updated with new details from the city and Toronto police and a statement by Leilani Farha.