Toronto's ombudsman to investigate homeless encampment clearings

·2 min read

Toronto's ombudsman has launched an investigation into the city's clearing of homeless encampments this summer.

The operations saw police clash with encampment residents and their supporters, and resulted in dozens of people facing charges.

"We have received complaints that raised concerns about the City's approach to the encampment evictions," Ombudsman Kwame Addo in a statement on Tuesday.

The city and police cleared four homeless encampments in three parks this summer. At three encampments, police officers in riot gear were used to clear the sites of residents and their supporters.

The ombudsman said his investigation will focus on how the city planned the clearings, engaged stakeholders and communicated with the public. The probe will also examine the policies and procedures that guided the city's actions.

The city said it would fully co-operate with the investigation.

"The city will ensure the ombudsman is provided with the entire scope of work undertaken by staff on this complex and important matter as it worked to ensure some of the city's most vulnerable residents had access to safe, indoor accommodation and services, while keeping parks safe and accessible for all," spokesman Brad Ross said in a statement.

The city has long maintained that the encampments were unsafe.

Toronto police have said they were supporting city staff in the encampment-clearing operations and carried out enforcement as a last resort.

Encampments sprouted up in many city parks when the pandemic hit in March 2020.

Hundreds fled the city's shelters for fears of contracting COVID-19. Many encampment residents said they also left due to violence within the shelter system.

Data obtained by The Canadian Press shows a significant rise in violent incidents in Toronto's shelter system over the last five years.

Police laid dozens of charges after helping the city clear encampments at Lamport Stadium, Trinity Bellwoods Park and Alexandra Park, and following a subsequent protest at a police station.

The majority of the alleged offences related to trespassing. The force also laid several assault-peace-officer charges.

Earlier this month, members of the homeless community and their supporters held a protest outside Toronto Mayor John Tory's downtown condominium demanding an end to the clearing of encampments and the dropping of trespass charges against those who live in the makeshift dwellings.

Several at that demonstration alleged they had been assaulted by police during the clearings and detained in police vehicles for hours.

The ombudsman said the office does not have the mandate to review the conduct of Toronto police officers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2021.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting