Twenty-six people were arrested at Toronto's Lamport Stadium park on Wednesday as the city and police forcibly evicted those living in an encampment there, police say.
At the height of the confrontation, officers could be seen rushing to push up against the metal barrier as they came face-to-face with demonstrators. At least one person appeared to have jumped the fence and was seen being arrested by police.
Nearby, police could be seen tearing down a makeshift barrier of wooden pallets before several people were led away in handcuffs.
By 2 p.m., police had completely cleared the site having physically removed those who wouldn't leave.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Toronto Police Staff Supt. Randy Carter said police were working to support the city and that their aim throughout was to preserve public safety.
"We did a tremendous job today to try to really, really help those that are most vulnerable," Carter said. "We do our best to get to place where nobody gets hurt and where we don't' have to be physically fighting with people but you were all witness to how we had to get to that place today."
WATCH: Violent scenes unfold as city, police forcibly clear Lamport Stadium encampment:
Asked if there was a better way to go about handling the situation, Carter replied, "There is a better way, I guess. You just don't let them put a tent up. But we're not that type of city."
In a news release on Wednesday night, police said the arrests were made for such offences as assault with a weapon, obstructing police, assaulting a peace officer, and trespassing.
At least 1 encampment resident arrested, police say
According to police, officers helped the city where needed and protesters gathered at the closed park to "interfere" with the city's efforts.
Police said efforts were made to speak to the encampment residents about the trespass notice, but added: "These efforts were largely ignored and the crowds became confrontational and hostile. Due to the dynamic situation, resources from other areas of the city were deployed to ensure the safety of everyone at the site and the wider public."
Police claimed they used "minimal force." They added they recovered a hatchet, knives, metal objects and more than 200 syringes from the site.
Three officers were injured, including one sprayed with a noxious substance.
'You should be outraged'
Encampment Support Network Toronto, an advocacy group who came to support encampment residents, tweeted that more than 25 people had been arrested, including one whose wrist was broken in the process.
"Multiple people are in the ER. "You should be outraged," the group tweeted.
Carter told reporters one officer was sprayed with a substance through the temporary fence and suffered minor injuries. A city security staff member also suffered minor injuries, he said.
City officials and police began forcibly evicting those living at the site early on Wednesday morning. The move comes one day after similar enforcement action led to the arrests of nine people at Alexandra Park.
The recent encampment clearings come after residents living at four large encampments, including Lamport Stadium, were issued trespass notices last month. They were warned they could be removed if they refused to leave and face fines of up to $10,000 if convicted. The city estimated between 14 and 17 people live at Lamport Stadium and said they would be offered indoor living accommodation and other supports.
Security guards and dozens of Toronto police officers arrived at Lamport Stadium, just east of the intersection of King and Dufferin streets, around dawn. Workers built a temporary fence around the site.
'Camping in parks is unhealthy, unsafe,' says city
In a statement Wednesday evening, the city said enforcing a trespass notice was its decision, not that of the police, and that the purpose of the fencing was both to "engage with encampment occupants safely" as well as to allow crews to begin "restoring and repairing the grounds of the park for general use."
"The city's objective today was to peacefully encourage encampment occupants to accept safe, indoor accommodation, as it does daily with people experiencing homelessness across the city. Camping in parks is unhealthy, unsafe and illegal," the statement said.
The city added those living in encampments are at risk of contracting COVID-19 and that emergency services have responded to more than 280 calls at Lamport Stadium park this year.
The city's statement went on to say there were 11 unhoused people at the park in the morning. By the end of the day, it said, two accepted referrals to a shelter or hotel program, five already had a space in the shelter system, three people left on their own accord and one person turned down an offer for permanent housing.
The statement also said the city removed 30 structures, as well as knives, an axe, a hatchet, propane and car batteries from the site.
Several community organizations put out calls on social media for concerned residents to demonstrate at the park Wednesday morning and about 100 people showed up to lend support to encampment residents. Some who were volunteering with the Encampment Support Network were passing bottles of water and packages of food to those behind the fence.
"The police told us we were not allowed to bring food and humanitarian relief in but we had to help," said Kortnee Sterr. "We had to resort to this measure of community support and advocacy, by throwing things over the fence."
Mayor claims 'no involvement' in press freedoms
On Tuesday, nine people were arrested — seven for trespassing — as staff and police dismantled a makeshift community in Alexandra Park. Among those detained was a photographer for The Canadian Press, who was handcuffed by a city security guard and released with a trespass notice.
Trespass notices carry no charge, but prevent a person from returning to a site for 90 days.
Of the 26 people who were living in the Alexandra Park encampment, the city said 14 accepted "safe indoor accommodation" while 12 others opted to leave the park on their own.
In its statement, the city said the outdoor pool at Alexandra park reopened Wednesday after being closed Tuesday.
"City staff are working hard to open the splash pad, which had been closed so far this summer due to the encampment," it added.
Police and security used temporary fencing to keep media and demonstrators away from the area being cleared, and employed the same approach at Lamport Stadium this morning. The city said that one television reporter and one photographer would be allowed within the fencing today.
Speaking at a COVID-19 briefing, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he believes that it is "important that we have transparency" but also said he has "no involvement" in decisions regarding press freedom during the clearings.
He suggested decisions were made to keep people safe but did not elaborate on why that involved limiting media access to a public park.
Brad Ross, spokesperson for the City of Toronto, suggested that the presence of media cameras intimidates those living in the encampments and hinders staff's ability to speak to them about potential options.
'We don't know where we're going to go'
Joey Mauger was among the encampment residents who didn't want to leave Lamport Stadium Wednesday.
"Me and my friends, we don't bother anybody," he said from behind the orange fence set up around the encampment. "We like it here, we don't want to go and we don't know where we're going to go."
Mauger said he had been living at the encampment for six months with his partner. He said he was previously put up in a hotel by the city but left because he didn't feel safe due to random check-ins.
"I'm too scared and not sure about anything anymore," he said, adding that he wanted affordable permanent housing.
The clearing of another encampment at Trinity Bellwoods Park last month drew criticism for the disproportionate use of force by police.
Tory defended that operation but promised a review of what took place.
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 has said it will eventually clear all of the homeless encampments, which it says are unsafe. City council also recently passed a motion to end encampments.