Councillors call on Mayor Tory to end ‘extreme show of force’ in encampment clearings

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TORONTO — Five Toronto councillors urged the city’s mayor on Friday to end what they called an “extreme show of force” during the clearing of homeless encampments.

In a letter to John Tory, the councillors said there’s no need for batons, pepper spray or guns in the operations, adding that the mayor’s approach to encampments does not resolve the challenges posed by them.

“We demand an end to the violence and extreme show of force,” said the letter signed by councillors Shelley Carroll, Mike Layton, Josh Matlow, Gordon Perks and Kristyn Wong-Tam.

“You are only moving people experiencing homelessness from parks to laneways, under bridges or into another park.”

The letter came after violence erupted on Wednesday when authorities moved in to clear a homeless encampment at a Toronto park.

The operation at Lamport Stadium Park saw police push out a crowd made up of encampment residents and many supporters after they refused to leave the area.

A different encampment was cleared the day before at Alexandra Park in downtown Toronto.

Tory said in a statement Friday that some councillors “continue to ignore” the work city staff have done to reach out to people in encampments and encourage them to take up safe indoor shelter with proper support.

“After thousands and thousands of visits offering housing before and after trespass notices are issued, there does come a time when an encampment cannot continue to occupy a public park, to threaten the safety and health of people experiencing homelessness, and impact the families and communities who rely on these parks,” he said.

“I support the right to protest but I do not support protesters trying to stop City staff from offering safe indoor housing to residents in encampments, forcing confrontations with police and City staff, and trying to stop the City from having discussions with encampment residents and from making sure our parks are safe and healthy places for everyone.”

Police have said they were at Lamport Stadium to support city staff in the clearing operations and carried out “enforcement” as a last resort, using “minimal force.”

The councillors who wrote to Tory added that any obstruction of media access to encampment clearing operations is “undemocratic and unconstitutional.”

A Canadian Press photographer covering the Alexandra Park clearing was arrested Tuesday by Toronto City Corporate Security and removed from the area.

Early in the pandemic, hundreds fled Toronto’s homeless shelters for fear of contracting COVID-19, setting up tents in parks throughout the city. Recent data obtained by The Canadian Press also shows a significant rise in violent incidents in Toronto’s shelter system over the last five years.

The city maintains the shelter system is safe, and city council recently passed a motion to end encampments.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press