Toronto lawyer calls mid-town shelter relocation a basic human right

Cornerstone Baptist Tabernacle at 833 St. Clair Avenue West.
Cornerstone Baptist Tabernacle at 833 St. Clair Avenue West. Google Maps/Screenshot

TORONTO – A Toronto labour and employment lawyer says the relocation of a mid-town homeless shelter should be approved by city council because it is a matter of respecting Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“The City of Toronto has acknowledged that it has a responsibility to ensure suitable service levels and an adequate number of shelter beds for residents that are homeless,” said Andrea Wobick during a joint press briefing at city hall on Monday.

“These vulnerable groups are entitled to protection under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and under the human rights code.”

Cornerstone Place is a 50-bed men’s shelter that has been located at 833 St. Clair Avenue West since 2001 but recently had to suspend its operations on July 31 as the organization’s lease was up.

The current property was sold to a developer in July 2012 who has now started work on the site.

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The Cornerstone Baptist Tabernacle is in charge of running the shelter and wants to renovate a building at 616 Vaughan Road in the Oakwood Village area and have the relocation finished by October.

“The deal to buy the new shelter must be complete by Sept. 3,” said Cornerstone Executive Director Rev. Patrick Reid.  “If council delays their decision they are effectively voting to shut down these 50 beds for at least 6 months or possibly forever.”

A council vote on the proposed move is expected sometime this week.

Wobick, who is a lawyer at the firm Ursel Phillips Fellows Hopkinson LLP, says council has an obligation to protect the rights of the homeless and the city could face legal action if the shelter relocation is rejected.

“We often think of our obligation to the poorest among us as a social or moral issue,” said Wobick. “But it’s more than that. People who are homeless also have Charter rights that deserve to be protected and the City has a leading role in protecting those rights.”

Some Oakwood Village residents oppose the relocation plan due to security concerns the shelter could pose in the community.

However despite the trepidation, there are others like Oakwood-Vaughan resident and mother of two Sue Snyed who think the shelter will be good for the neighbourhood.

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She has since gathered 647 signatures in support of the proposal.

“There’s going to be many more eyes on the street,” Snyed told reporters. “That’s going to help us in terms of the vibrancy of the neighbhourhood and in terms of everybody’s overall safety.”

“I’d rather have the shelter there than perhaps another bar or restaurant that may not add to the vibrancy of our community. We’ve experienced some of those tough times in the past.”

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