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

TORONTO — Five Toronto councillors are urging the city's mayor to end what they call an "extreme show of force" during the clearing of homeless encampments. 

In a letter to Mayor John Tory, the councillors say there's no need for batons, pepper spray or guns in the operations.

Their message comes 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's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter. The mayor has said the city is working hard to provide those living in encampments with indoor accommodations.

The city has cited the risk of fires and the need to make parks accessible to everyone as factors behind the clearings.

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 said Friday 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 councillors 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 report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2021.


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

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press