Homeless encampment supporters banned from all city-run parks, community centres feel 'targeted'

·5 min read
Alykhan Pabani's possessions were removed from the homeless encampment at Dufferin Grove Park, where the city says it has removed 18 tents or structures and connected 16 encampment occupants to permanent housing opportunities between Aug. 11 and Sept. 27, 2021.   (CBC/ Dale Manucdoc - image credit)
Alykhan Pabani's possessions were removed from the homeless encampment at Dufferin Grove Park, where the city says it has removed 18 tents or structures and connected 16 encampment occupants to permanent housing opportunities between Aug. 11 and Sept. 27, 2021. (CBC/ Dale Manucdoc - image credit)

The City of Toronto has banned two homeless encampment supporters from all of its public parks and community centres for one year, letters sent by the city to the two men show.

Alykhan Pabani and a man known as "Dredz" received letters signed by city manager Chris Murray, on Oct. 6 and Oct. 4, respectively, notifying them of the bans from all property run by the city's Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PFR) division.

Both men live in city parks in the west end and also support the dozens of homeless people living in tents in Randy Padmore and Dufferin Grove parks. They say they were evicted without notice, had their property removed by the city and were told they could be charged with trespassing if they violated the ban.

"I feel targeted," said Pabani, adding that out of some 40 tents in Dufferin Grove Park, 30 police officers and 20 city workers came for his tent alone and took all his belongings while he wasn't there.

"They're trying to scare me — scare me from organizing," he said.

CBC/ Martin Trainor
CBC/ Martin Trainor

The move comes while Toronto faces an affordable housing crisis and is under scrutiny for several high-profile encampment clearings this summer, in which it used riot police. The city spent nearly $2 million to clear three city parks and Toronto's Ombudsman launched an investigation on the clearings last month.

The city's chief communications officer, Brad Ross, said the two men harassed, threatened staff and interfered with its work to move people living in parks inside.

"We try to work with people in a very collaborative way," said Ross. "When people get in the way of that, for reasons that I can't fathom, it requires us to take some action to ensure that we can do our jobs so that people are safe. And that's what the City of Toronto has done."

"You cannot camp in a park, that is not a choice," said Ross. "Camping in parks is not permitted. It is illegal."

CBC/ Dale Manucdoc
CBC/ Dale Manucdoc

Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor with Sanctuary Toronto, said the city's move will put the two men at risk.

"This city-wide ban has immediate life or death consequences," Hatlem, who knows both men, said in an email to CBC Toronto.

"Through the stroke of a pen, people are barred from using warming centres, from getting food or clothing at a city-run drop-in centre or from returning to the communities in parks where the city has now centralized access to its services, including the sign up list for permanent housing."

CBC Toronto has reviewed the letters sent to both men, which cite PRF's code of conduct policy, the city's Human Rights and Anti-Harassment and Discrimination Policy, were issued under the trespassing act and effective immediately. An appeal form was also included.

Pabani was told his ban was for recording conversations between city staff and other encamped people containing private details, without consent; "harassing, hindering, or obstructing" city staff from conducting official city work at encampment locations; and engaging in "activities that pose a safety concern" to city staff doing city work.

Pabani said the notice also refers to him filming people being violently removed from Lamport Stadium park on his cellphone. It is legal to record and film on public property.

Ross said people "can absolutely film city staff doing their jobs," however, when there's a third party involved, such as an encamper, who has asked not to be filmed, continuing to film is an obstruction.

"That's part of getting in the way of staff trying to do their jobs," Ross said.

"Dredz" was told the city received reports he had threatened other park residents, used a weapon against another park user, engaged in illegal activity in parks, such as selling controlled drugs and substances, and had been observed being aggressive with city staff.

He questions why the allegations were not acted upon immediately and brought to police if the city has witnesses and evidence, and says the city has acted as "judge and jury."

CBC/ Martin Trainor
CBC/ Martin Trainor

"We've been accused of these crimes or incidents and automatically [have] been consequenced with no place to fight it," said Dredz.

When asked why Dredz was not charged or arrested and given the opportunity to fight the allegations through the legal system, Ross said he would leave that question to the police.

The two men are being represented by the Community Justice Collective and are considering taking the city to court.

"These bans from all public space, not only don't follow basic public process and Toronto's own municipal code, but are blatantly unconstitutional because of the harms that they bring to individuals," said Sima Atri, one of the lawyers representing them.

In a letter sent to the city, Atri and the other two lawyers representing the pair pointed out the city failed to give Pabani and Dredz 72 hours notice to leave the park, as required by the city's municipal code.

Previous similar ban found too broad by Ombudsman

This isn't the first time the city has done this. In 2006 a man was banned from attending all City of Toronto parks and recreations facilities for one year, due to "inappropriate behaviour" at two locations. After waiting out the year-long ban, the man was told it would remain "indefinitely."

A 2010 City Ombudsman Report later found the ban was "far too broad" and was done without proper documentation. It recommended that before issuing a ban PFR suspend individuals and give them an opportunity to respond to the allegations.

Also recommended, was for the city to notify the Toronto Ombudsman before issuing bans.

A spokesperson for Ombudsman Toronto told CBC Toronto the city did not notify the office about the two bans against Pabani and Dredz.

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