The City of Toronto is once again petitioning for private security companies to patrol its parks and investigate “possible attempted encampments, safety hazards and criminal activity.”
The new posting comes after an attempt in May to find a company to provide security at municipal parks failed.
The city came under fire from some earlier this year when it put out a request for proposals (RFP) to find private security firms to prevent encampments in parks.
That RFP failed to draw qualified bidders, the city said, with two companies given short-term, non-competitive contracts to provide the service.
During the spring, the city awarded two short-term contracts to patrol parks including Trinity Bellwoods Park, Lamport Stadium Park, Alexandra Park and Dufferin Grove.
“The current parks security contracts with Logix Security Inc. and Valguard Security Inc. for $500,000 each began on April 13, 2022, and are temporary interim contracts to provide parks security until the contract associated with the RFP can be awarded,” a spokesperson for the City of Toronto said.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, large encampments formed across parks in Toronto as homeless people said they felt the shelters weren’t safe and feared contracting the virus.
Lamport Stadium and Trinity Bellwoods were both sites that saw many structures and tents. The City of Toronto was criticized for the tactics police officers used to clear the encampments.
An RFP for security services to patrol city parks closed on May 30, 2022, but none of the bidders met Toronto’s criteria, the city said.
The new RFP, posted on Wednesday, says Toronto is looking to retain a company that will offer security guard services at parks around the city.
The successful security team will provide “mobile security guard services” at several parks.
The parks named as potential locations include Trinity Bellwoods Park, Alexandra Park, and Allan A. Lamport Stadium Park, the posting said.
“A new RFP was posted on August 24 and the wording of the RFP has been revised to ensure the contract requirements and scope of work are clear to potential vendors,” the city said.
Staff from a private security firm would “monitor and patrol” the parks, with some enforcement responsibilities, the RFP says.
The posting specified that staff will, “if required, legally arrest individuals and surrender same to Police as soon as possible.” As well as, “enforcement of the Trespass to Property act including physically removing individuals found trespassing or engaging in criminal acts.”
Steven King, who was homeless for 13 years before being housed through the city’s Dufferin Grove pilot project, said the contract would be a “waste of money, time and resources.”
He is a member of an advocacy group, Encampment Support Network — Parkdale, serving on its strategic committee.
“Up until now, security guards have been pretty useless — they just watch us from their cars; they’re an extra pair of eyes,” he told Global News. “This new RFP can lead to violence because they would have more power to use force — with even less accountability than the police.”
King said policies such as free transit, safe consumption sites and funding for food banks would be more effective ways to help the city’s unhoused population.
The City of Toronto spokesperson said private security would not replace the existing enforcement system around the city.
“City of Toronto staff utilize contracted security services to monitor key parks and to report encampment-related issues,” they said. “Contracted security services are not directly responsible for bylaw enforcement.”
The RFP also specifies guards would provide “support to those experiencing homeless by connecting them to City services.”
— with files from Global News’ Gabby Rodrigues