Arrested N.S. housing protesters to contest charges on constitutional grounds

Click to play video: 'Advocates rally, demand public apology over Halifax encampment evictions'
Advocates rally, demand public apology over Halifax encampment evictions
Housing advocates are calling on governments and the police to issue a public apology over the encampment evictions in August, and for charges against demonstrators to be dropped. Alexa MacLean reports. – Dec 1, 2021

A lawyer for eight protesters arrested during a clash last August over the removal of small Halifax homeless shelters says he’ll use constitutional arguments during his clients’ trials.

In a news release today, Asaf Rashid says his clients were exercising their freedom of expression and freedom of assembly when they demonstrated outside the Halifax public library.

The demonstration grew tense after police arrested a protester who had been sitting on the roof of a small wooden shelters erected by an advocacy group for the homeless.

After the protest spilled from a lawn onto nearby streets, officers sprayed people with chemical irritants and later donned riot gear to keep demonstrators away from the shelter as contractors arrived to dismantle it.

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Police said at the time that 24 protesters were charged with offences, including obstruction, assaulting police and resisting arrest.

Rashid says if a trial proceeds, his clients will plead not guilty, adding he expects trial dates to be set during a hearing on Tuesday.

The defence lawyer says he’ll also argue that the provincial Protection of Property Act and the municipal bylaw prohibiting camping in parks weren’t sufficient grounds for the municipality to order the destruction of the camps.

Rashid cites Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects the right to “life, liberty and security of the person,” arguing that the residents of the shelters didn’t have adequate and safe alternatives.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage has defended the police response, saying officers were attempting to de-escalate a tense situation. The mayor has said the city notified the advocacy group involved two months before the Aug. 18 demonstration that the shelter was in violation of municipal bylaws and had to be removed.

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On Sept. 29, the mayor announced the municipality planned to create new affordable housing units, starting with modular trailers that could be used as homes for some of those who continue to live in tents and temporary shelters around the city.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2022.

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