toronto homeless parks

Court rules that Toronto is allowed to kick homeless people out of parks

An Ontario court has denied a request from homeless residents and advocates that would have stopped the city from being able to remove encampments from Toronto parks throughout the remainder of the pandemic.

A group consisting of two community groups (the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty) and 14 individuals living in park encampments filed an application for an interim order that would prohibit the city from enforcing its bylaw that says residents cannot camp in parks overnight, but that request was denied by Justice Paul Schabas following arguments that were heard from both sides on Oct 1. 

In his decision released Wednesday, Schabas said he was not directing the city to remove residents from parks but would not move to forbid it, acknowledging that the "city has taken many steps in its shelter system to respond to COVID-19."

"My decision is based on evidence that dates from the summer months when the incidence of COVID-19 was low, the weather was warm, and the city had specific concerns about particular group encampments," he wrote, adding that the city should consider when to enforce its parks bylaw by looking at factors such as the availability of shelter spaces and how the encampments are affecting the areas in which they're located.

"The sweeping relief sought would unjustifiably tie the city's hands in dealing with encampments that raise serious health and safety concerns for an indefinite duration, and would unduly prevent the use of parks by others."

As a result of unsafe conditions in homeless shelters as well as COVID-19 outbreaks this past summer, many left city shelters and instead took up residence in parks across the city  — putting the homelessness crisis on display for all to see

The city says there are currently approximately between 400 and 500 individuals living outside in city parks, on boulevards and in ravines across Toronto, and they maintain that "conditions in encampments create significant health and safety concerns for those living outside, as well as for the community-at-large."

But many individuals experiencing homelessness say they actually feel much safer in an encampment than in a shelter, especially amid a pandemic, and advocates have long criticized the city for not providing basic necessities such as water and medical care to those living in encampments in order to help improve conditions. 

Following the release of the decision Wednesday, prominent Toronto street nurse Cathy Crowe wrote on Twitter that it "does not take into account a completely full and unsafe shelter system in the midst of a pandemic."

In a statement published Wednesday, the city said it will continue to work to rehouse individuals living in parks, and that more than 948 people have been referred to safe, indoor space directly from encampments and moved with their belongings since March. 

The city also said a total of 62 encampment sites have been cleared so far this year, adding that Toronto Fire Service has responded to 189 fire calls in encampments in the same time frame. 

In a separate and unrelated court case, meanwhile, Ontario's Superior Court released a decision earlier this week stating that the city had not upheld its end of a settlement that required all possible efforts to be made to ensure physical distancing in its shelters. 

"If the option is suitable then ppl will go. How can the City tell ppl it's not safe to congregate for thanksgiving dinner and then also say move in to a congregate setting?!? Ppl have a right to refuse something they don't think suitable or safe for them," wrote Zoë Dodd, co-founder of the overdose prevention society, on Twitter Wednesday.

"12 ppl died in shelters in July, the highest this year alone. This was around the time they were clearing ppl from parks. Perhaps these spaces weren't actually safe? And ppl knowing the need to be close to their supports and services could be honoured?!?" she continued.

"Today's ruling to not grant the injunction is disappointing but not surprising. Courts don't work in favour of homeless ppl, we can't even get courts to say that housing is a right. We live in a system of displacement, dislocation from land. This country was built on it."

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim


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