Toronto officials, police under fire for tactics used to clear homeless encampments

Click to play video: 'Questions about police tactics during Toronto park evictions' Questions about police tactics during Toronto park evictions
WATCH ABOVE: Following the second forcible eviction of a homeless encampment in Toronto, some are questioning the use of force by police. The mayor says the encampments are unsafe and unhealthy and have no place in parks, but advocates say the tactics used to remove them went too far. Matthew Bingley reports – Jul 22, 2021

A day after Toronto police moved into Lamport Stadium Park to evict a homeless encampment, many are calling out the use of force and calling on the mayor to change tactics.

Encampments in parks around the city have been a thorn in the side of city officials for the entirety of the pandemic. After spending thousands of hours through outreach with those living there, many have refused options to move indoors.

On Wednesday, more than two dozen people were arrested following the clearing of Lamport Stadium Park. It was the second park cleared this week, following Alexandra Park on Monday, and the third this summer after Trinity Bellwoods Park in late June.

Read more: Toronto police, bylaw officers moving to clear Trinity Bellwoods Park homeless encampment

Many have noted that the tactics used by police and private security enlisted by the city have grown more aggressive and some say the force used is excessive.

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“People were peacefully defending tents and their bodies were used to actually destroy those tents,” said Diana Chan McNally, an outreach worker with the Toronto Drop-In network.

She said she is still processing what she witnessed at Lamport Stadium, which she said reduced her to tears.

“This is not just incredibly violent and constitutes police brutality and assault on civilians, it’s also psychological warfare,” she said.

Chan McNally said Mayor John Tory’s assertion that protesters have been interfering with city efforts to move people indoors doesn’t hold water.

“The only engagements that were actively taking place were to issue trespass warnings,” she said.

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Tory once again defended the City of Toronto’s actions. In a statement to Global News, he said he supports the right to protest, but not when it gets in the way of clearing parks of unsafe, unhealthy, and illegal encampments.

“I do not support protesters trying to stop City staff from offering safe indoor housing to residents in encampments, forcing confrontations with police and City staff, and trying to stop the City from having discussions with encampment residents and from making sure our parks are safe and healthy places for everyone,” he said.

Chan McNally is not the first to accuse the city’s methods of undermining the process of finding housing for people. By having police roar into the park, she said trust issues are not resolved and people simply move on to other encampments.

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A City of Toronto news release said following the Lamport Stadium removal, two new people accepted space in a shelter or hotel program.

“When you deploy hundreds of police officers and put people within a cage that you built around them, are people making a free decision to come indoors or are they being coerced? I think it’s the latter,” countered Chan McNally.

Tension is growing among some of those still living at an encampment in Moss Park. Matthew Bingley/Global News

At Moss Park, where another encampment has seen tents over the course of the pandemic, Diane Valero said people living there are growing tense over the city’s actions. “There’s already been talk amongst us that they’re going to come in full force, they’re going to raid us,” she said.

Velero has been living in the park on and off for two summers and said in that time, she has only been offered temporary housing. If she were offered a permanent space indoors, Valero said she would leave immediately.

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For those who aren’t ready to leave parks, Velero said the city needed to take a patient approach, noting many people there have mental health issues and aren’t used to structure.

Read more: Toronto police, bylaw officers moving to clear Trinity Bellwoods Park homeless encampment

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward encompasses Moss Park, said the City needs to rely on less police officers and more social workers with future encampment operations. She said Tory needs to play a key role in de-escalating the growing violence.

“Mayor Tory needs to back down. He needs to be able to step away from what he’s been saying because he’s been standing out in front of the cameras endorsing this tactic … which we all now recognize is gone too far, is too aggressive an approach and in many ways is ineffective,” said Wong-Tam.

She told Global News she is in favour of engaging third-party, neutral observers at any future park clearing to ensure everything that happens is on the public record.

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