A Toronto City councilor and a high-profile doctoral student speaking out against the forced evictions of homeless camps, saying the city should stop using police to remove homeless people from public parks.
Council Mike Layton, who represents Ward 11, University-Rosedale and Dr. Andrew Boozary, executive director of the University Health Network’s social medicine department, says a compassionate method that involves dialogue and combines housing and health is needed to solve the problem of the homeless in Toronto.
Both say the violence that took place Wednesday at Lamport Stadium Park, which resulted in several injuries and more than two dozen arrests, was completely unacceptable.
“The actions we saw today are extremely disappointing and disturbing,” Layton said.
“And I think, as a community, we need to find another course to follow in our city in order to help address the issue of homelessness and homelessness in our city. And that should include an approach to compassion that leads men within, not by force or threat by force. “
Boozary, for his part, said a more humane approach is okay and the focus should be on housing solutions.
“We need another way forward. This is not at all what we want to see in our city. And I have to believe that any city councilor, if he were there to see what happened, could not support an approach. such, “Boozary said
Layton and Boozary spoke after Toronto police officers helped the city push people homeless out of Lamport Stadium Park on Wednesday. Police arrested 26 people, including at least one resident in the camp. Police said the arrests were made for such offenses of assault, police obstruction, assault peace officer and assault.
Videos circulating on Twitter show police pushing a string of protesters underground. At least three supporters of the campers went to the hospital, according to Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor with the Toronto Sanctuary Ministries.
“They came in to really hurt people,” Hatlem said.
Later, when protesters showed up at 14 Divisionto demanding the release of those arrested, they were sprinkled with pepper. According to the Campaign Support Network, officers lined up in front of the police division, then some officers pushed the protesters to the ground after spraying peppers in the face.
Layton said the city council debated the camping issue about two months ago and some councilors advocated for an “other route,” informed by experts, that would include talking to camp residents and finding out why they are reluctant to come inside shelter.
“There are reasons why many of these people are not ready or think it is unsafe to go inside and we need to understand them better so that we can address them with the hopes we can bring them to that point, either in a housing situation, or rather, permanent housing, with whatever support is needed, “Layton said.
“There is something completely wrong in using violence or threatening violence in order to further criminalize homelessness in our city,” he continued.
“We all appreciate that it is not healthy to live in a park and it is not a solution for the homeless just to let people sleep in a park. But this is a mistake of every level of government. It is in every level. of the government to allow our homeless and the housing crisis to take this evil. “
In a statement issued Wednesday, the city said it was trying to persuade camp residents to relocate to indoor shelters equipped with the necessary supports to help them.
“The objective of the city today was to peacefully encourage campers to accept safe accommodation, at home, as it does every day with people experiencing homelessness throughout the city. Camping in parks is unhealthy, unsafe and illegal.” it was said in the statements.
The city taking the ‘wrong approach’, says the councilor
But Layton said the city is following the “wrong approach” and will be measured by the way it deals with the problem of homelessness.
Boozary, who has been outspoken about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Toronto’s racist and low-income homeless communities, decided to use force against those experiencing homelessness and their supporters.
“I think we’re not going to go to police people out of poverty, especially in a pandemic, and we’re not going to go to police people out of poverty, period,” Boozary said.
“Attempts to try to take people out of sight are not in line with housing as a human rights perspective, nor is it a public health approach,” he added.
He noted that clearing camps during a pandemic is not in line with advice from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC says: “Cleaning up camps can cause people to be scattered throughout the community and sever ties with service providers. This increases the potential for the spread of infectious diseases.”
Boozary said the camps are a symptom of a long-standing failure on the part of governments when it comes to housing and homelessness. Taking a police approach with communities that no longer trust public institutions will do a lot of damage and undermine any trust that exists, he said.
He said the city council should take a zero approach to homelessness, not zero encampments.
Police say pepper spray is ‘legal’
In a statement Wednesday night, Toronto police confirmed that they used pepper spray on protesters outside the Division14.
“This is an ongoing and dynamic incident where officers have been injured as a result of large and hostile crowds outside Division 14. Despite numerous efforts to engage the crowd and disperse them, they remain active,” Connie Osborne, spokeswoman of the Toronto Police Service, he said.
“Officers can use a number of legitimate tactics in order to protect themselves and keep the crowds under control. Pepper spray is one of them.”
Aliya Pabani, a member of the Parkdale Campaign Support Network, said she was sprinkled with pepper as she waited outside Division 14 for the word of supporters stopped inside the station. The network is an advocacy group that supports camp residents.
“It was just kind of incredible in my mind. It was a continuation of the brutal, excessive force that happened at Lamport Stadium. It almost seemed like revenge to me,” she said.
“To bring in police officers mounted to deal with peaceful protesters demonstrating in a prison support, demanding the release of arrested people, protecting homeless people from violent deportation, it was really shocking to me honestly, the scale in it which they escalated things in crowds, ”she added.
“They were actually throwing people on the ground while they were blinded by the spray of spec. I do not understand how it can be justified.”
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