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Toronto mayor to review clearing of homeless encampment from Trinity Bellwoods

At least 14 people living in park have accepted city's help to relocate, city says
June 24, 2021

At least 14 people who were living in an encampment at Trinity Bellwoods Park have accepted the city's help relocating, according to a city of Toronto news release.

In the release on Wednesday, the city said nine people left, "declining offers of support or service," and that eight other people "were unable to be contacted."

"People have to make their own decision about where they want to live," Brad Ross, spokesperson for the city of Toronto, told CBC's As It Happens, quickly clarifying that "they're not permitted to live in parks."

The city has come under fire on Tuesday for evicting between 20 and 25 people experiencing homelessness who have been living in the park for nearly a year.

"I don't think anybody is satisfied that we had to have a police presence and protest," Ross said.

He said fences were brought in to keep city staff and people living in the encampment safe "from the potential escalation of violence."

Ross was adamant that the encampment needed to be cleared, saying "people are safer inside, that is just a fact."

However, advocates continue to push back on the city's approach, critiquing its efforts to force people from public parks and into shelter systems and hotels they've said make them feel unsafe.

"The income is not there for people to find housing so, until those solutions are given, you leave people alone," said Gaetan Heroux, an advocate for homeless communities.

Heroux said people need to understand why people living in encampments aren't taking the city's "so-called better options."

One encampment resident, Susan Gibson, said as much on Tuesday, telling reporters she was "disturbed, ashamed" by the city's approach and that until affordable, permanent housing was an option, there was no better option for her than public parks.

People experiencing homelessness were struggling before the pandemic and it's only gotten worse, Heroux said.

"How can you, in the middle of this crisis, this disaster, go to people and say:'You have to move, you can't stay here?'" Heroux said. "Don't add to their misery, don't add to their stress."

Mayor John Tory said there will be a review after police used force to remove a homeless encampment from a downtown park.

The police operation at Trinity Bellwoods Park on Tuesday involved dozens of police officers, municipal workers and private security guards.

Tory says the large police presence and private security was necessary to keep city workers safe as they tried to persuade about 20 people to leave the park and move to a shelter.

He says that it's necessary to remove the encampments from Toronto's parks but that the incident will be reviewed by him and the police services board.

The city says no one was injured during the confrontation.

Toronto says police were enforcing trespass notices the city had issued to residents of the encampment at Trinity Bellwoods Park on June 12.

"Our goal is always a proportionate response, with an emphasis on de-escalation, in order to maintain the safety of everyone involved," the Toronto Police Service said in a Wednesday afternoon news release it said was sparked by questions about the force's involvement.

Officers wore body cameras that they were told to have "turned on," according to the release, which also said that no facial recognition "of any kind" was used.

The fencing put up around the encampment was "part of [the city's] operational plan," police said. For safety reasons, they told people within the fenced area that once they left they "were not allowed to return."

Police say this was communicated with a photojournalist prior to his arrest. Although the photojournalist was released without charges, according to police, his arrest sparked condemnation from the Canadian Association of Journalists.

"Media are not exempt from restrictions put in place for people's safety in the same way they are not permitted to enter other police or crime scenes," the police release said.