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Documents show Halifax’s ‘conscious decision’ to quietly carry out encampment evictions

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WATCH: Global News has obtained documents from a Freedom of Information Request, which provide some insight into how the city arrived at the decision to dismantle encampments – Dec 3, 2021

A stack of emails dating back to June outline how city officials made a “conscious decision” to not inform service providers of the city’s plan to orchestrate police-led encampment evictions of four sites in Halifax.

Global News obtained a thread of emails through the Freedom of Information Act that details the planning and aftermath of the Aug. 18 evictions.

The growing number of unhoused people living in city parks prompted CAO Jacques Dube to email his communications lead on July 30.

“There is a 10 person elaborate tent that just went up at the old library. That and the other tents have to go too the week of August 9 once we clear the Peace and Friendship Park,” Dube wrote to Paul Johnston, HRM’s managing director of government relations and external affairs.

Read more: Halifax police pepper spray crowd during protests over torn-down shelters

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It ended up being shortly after sunrise on Aug. 18 when dozens of police officers descended onto encampment sites throughout Halifax.

Halifax Regional Police and the Halifax Regional Municipality stated health and safety concerns were the catalysts for the removals.

The municipality had placed several vacate notices with eviction dates on tents and wooden shelters in the weeks leading up to the official removal date.

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However, the city said deadlines they had previously imposed passed without any action.

The messaging from city officials leading up to and throughout the evictions – and the protests against them – was that housing options had been offered to occupants.

“It’s up to them to decide whether they’d take them or not but as a city, and as a province, we’ve made sure that those options are available,” Mike Savage, mayor of Halifax, said in an interview on Aug. 18.

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Read more: Halifax council admits ‘some things did go wrong’ in encampment eviction

That messaging stood in stark contrast to what housing support workers stated as they swept in to help displaced occupants find resources.

“We could have coordinated this much differently, much more delicately, and things could have unfolded in a way that I believe would be … as safe as they possibly could be,” Rylee Booroff, an outreach worker with Adsum for Women & Children, said in an interview on Aug. 19.

Booroff went on to state that while she recognizes that encampments in public spaces aren’t sustainable or ideal, unhoused folks had no other options.

“If government is not going to offer them appropriate, safe, secure, affordable housing — what choice do we have but to be outside on government land?” she said.

Read more: How advocacy forced governments to confront Nova Scotia’s housing crisis

On Aug. 19, Savage’s chief of staff emailed her concerns to Dube following a conversation she had with a housing service provider.

“They were of the view that while hotel rooms may have been offered at some point many of the people in tents and sleeping structures have not been able to be successfully housed, even as a bridging solution, in hotels,” Shaune MacKinlay wrote.

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She stated that several community agencies stood against the decision by HRM to keep the eviction confidential.

“The service providers may have been able to come up with other alternatives if they were aware that HRM was going to move on the tents yesterday. Instead Adsum, Out of the Cold, Eric the street navigator (who was on vacation), North End Clinic have taken positions against the municipality,” she wrote.

Lack of communication was a ‘conscious decision’

Dube responded by stating that, “we made a conscious decision to not telegraph our operation to those agencies given the serious risks of doing so.”

He wrote that police and city workers evacuated three sites without any issues but, “had we telegraphed those, the scenario we saw at the Library would be times four instead of one.”

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Dube ended his response by saying, “there was zero chance we would put our operation and staff at risk by doing what they suggest, i.e. telling them in advance.”

On Aug. 21, Dube emailed his team stating, “I am under a lot of pressure to find some temporary shelter space with the potential of the weather turning for the worse early in the week.”

Read more: Advocates rally, demand public apology over Halifax encampment evictions

He then sent an email to HRM’s corporate real estate director asking whether a portion of the Red Cross Building could be used as an emergency shelter space.

On Aug. 24, he emailed Tracey Taweel, the provincial deputy minister of community services, outlining a list of suggested locations for temporary emergency housing sites.

He described the Gray Arena in Dartmouth as a “long shot but in the mix for consideration by HRM as we own it.”

The arena ended up being converted into a temporary shelter.

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He also suggested that the parking lots at Centennial Pool and Alderney landing be used as “temporary trailer sites assuming wrap-around services.”

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Funding for emergency housing measures was unanimously approved by regional council following public outrage over the police-led evictions.

The city has selected two sites for modular units in Halifax and Dartmouth. The one in Dartmouth is scheduled to be finished by Dec. 20 and the one in Halifax is scheduled to be finished by the end of January.

Approximately 30 people were staying at the Gray Arena at the end of November and around 20 were staying in tents in Meagher Park, also known as People’s Park.

There are more than 400 people in HRM who are struggling with homelessness, according to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia.

View the documents obtained by Global News below:

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