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Police arrests tied to Hamilton encampment teardowns spark demonstration at central station

Hamilton police central station on King William Street in 2019. Global News

A day after a fire and rally at a downtown Hamilton park, groups advocating on behalf of the city’s homeless gathered outside the central police station on Friday to protest several arrests made over the last three days.

Hamilton police confirmed arrests were connected with a homeless encampment teardown in J.C. Beemer Park that began on Wednesday, with five in total charged for obstructing police.

Some face additional charges for assaulting peace officers.

Read more: Residents displaced after fire rips through homeless encampment at Hamilton park

The Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN) allege another arrest was made on Friday at a Beasley Park teardown, which involved co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario Sarah Jama.

Jama’s own Twitter account shared a message about her arrest “while peacefully observing” the teardown and made a call out to supporters to rally at 155 King William Street demanding her release.

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HESN supporters also accused Hamilton police of arresting three more during the gathering at the central station for trying to pitch a tent.

Hamilton police have not yet responded to Global News’ query about those alleged arrests.

Just after 4 p.m., the HESN said Jama was released.

In a presser the following Monday, Jama said her arrest was tied to allegedly assaulting a police officer with her wheelchair by running over an officer’s foot during the Beemer Park demonstration.

“It is not possible, this chair can barely even drive on the grass,” Jama said.

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Hamilton began dismantling encampments in city parks following a superior court judge ruling on Nov. 2 against a group of homeless residents seeking a permanent injunction to stop the city from removing setups from the locations.

Counsel for the city argued that “exponential growth” of encampments in city parks was causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage to trees, grass and other permanent structures in addition to propagating safety issues, unauthorized use of electricity and calls to clean up discarded needles and drug paraphernalia.

Read more: Demonstration at Hamilton public works yard after failed legal battle to prevent encampment removal

Justice Andrew J. Goodman acknowledged that evidence brought forth by the city’s counsel demonstrated it “continues to undertake reasonable steps in order to make available safe shelter space and accommodation” available for homelessness.

However, counsel for the applicants suggested the city has not created any new shelter space for the homeless, citing recent dates in mid-October when the director of housing services stated the system didn’t have enough beds on a given night.

Days after the court decision, advocates for Hamilton’s homeless population held a solidarity picket at the city-run parks and recreation facility on Nov. 12 in an attempt to stop trucks responsible for carrying out encampment evictions.

The matter became heated on Wednesday morning after a fire tore through an encampment at J.C. Beemer Park destroying several tents and damaging a hydro line.

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Hamilton police say the blaze was not believed to be criminal in nature and that it was the result of explosions and flames fueled by debris in the area.

Read more: Suspicious fire leads to GO train delays out of Hamilton’s West Harbour station: Metrolinx

About 25 to 30 individuals soon descended on the scene on behalf of the city’s homeless residents and rallied at the site, calling on the city to not remove what remained of the residents’ belongings.

In a livestream posted on Twitter, a police officer who can be seen dragging one person by the arm is surrounded by other supporters of encampment residents, with other officers getting involved in the clash and pushing people backward.

In a statement on Saturday, police chief Frank Bergen characterized the gathering at Beemer Park as “not a peaceful protest” claiming protesters broke through a perimeter and compromised the safety of workers cleaning the area, encampment residents, city staff and outreach workers.

“We fundamentally agree that community support and demonstrations must not be criminalized,” Bergen said in Twitter video post.

“There is a fine balance in the need to allow for community activism, while also maintaining demonstrations that meet the threshold for peaceful, lawful and safe assembly.”

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Jason Farr, councillor for Ward 2 where J.C. Beemer is located, said activists “making noise” at the site about how the city is not doing enough for the homeless is “shocking and upsetting.”

“We’re actually doing more in Hamilton than probably any other city in Canada, and we’re pretty proud of it in this pandemic alone,” Farr told 900 CHML’s Hamilton Today on Thursday.

“We’ve had over 480 houseless or homeless individuals and families that we did find housing for, and there is shelter space and there are safer and more humane options.”

 

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