Toronto Criticized for Excessive Police Force at Homeless Encampment

The city of Toronto is facing criticism after deploying a large amount of police to clear homeless encampments at Trinity Bellwoods Park on Tuesday.

The City of Toronto with the aid of Toronto Police And Star Security erect fences around homeless encampments in Trinity Bellwoods park as the begin to remove the parks Ontario enters Step One of a three step reopening plan as COVID-19 vaccinations rise and new cases continue to fall in Toronto. June 22, 2021.
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Image via Getty/Steve Russell/Toronto Star

The City of Toronto with the aid of Toronto Police And Star Security erect fences around homeless encampments in Trinity Bellwoods park as the begin to remove the parks Ontario enters Step One of a three step reopening plan as COVID-19 vaccinations rise and new cases continue to fall in Toronto. June 22, 2021.

The city of Toronto is facing criticism for what many are calling an excessive use of police force at the clearing of a homeless encampment in a public park on Tuesday.

Police barricades and bulldozers were in full effect at a city-enforced eviction of one of Toronto’s larger tent encampments in Trinity Bellwoods Park.

While the city has identified public safety as the leading reason for clearing the encampments, advocates who attended Tuesday’s clearing (along with their social media audiences) were surprised at the amount of police officers and private security that were present.

The dismay and outrage of encampment allies and community organizers spilled over into the Twittersphere last night under the hashtag #defundthepolice.

“…I was there. Tory is lying. The violence/ lack of safety came from 100s of tactical cops/horses/vans/drones/fencing/threats” tweeted Beaches-East York MPP, Dr. Rima Berns-Mcgown.

The city’s communications lead, Brad Ross, has defended dismantling encampments as a necessary public health measure, describing the health outcomes of those who stay outside as “complex and serious.”

“As outlined in the recent City Manager’s report to City Council, encampments contravene several chapters of the Municipal Code and are not a solution to homelessness,” the city said in a statement of the planned eviction at the public space.

Encampment residents have argued against the city’s own shelters and hotel programs being the kind of safe haven from COVID and violence that the public has been led to believe they are. “At least 36 people have died in city shelters in the first four months of 2021 alone” reads a post on the Encampment Support Network’s (ESN) Instagram account, which has over 23,000 followers. 

The Toronto Police Service has also come under fire for preventing journalists from entering the encampment area while attempting to cover the incident, as well as, according to a statement by The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), detaining one photojournalist.

“The Toronto Police have no right to detain journalists who are covering events of public interest. Today’s events were a complete overreaction. Toronto Police used a hammer to swat a fly,” the CAJ’s president said Tuesday.

In a press conference Wednesday, Toronto’s mayor John Tory said the large police presence was a response to “the circumstances that were created there when the hundreds of people showed up who were not the people experiencing homelessness that we were trying to help.” He added that these protesters were “people who are trying to make a statement” and have been steadfast in their refusal to allow the city to clear encampments in the park.

Eviction notices were also given to encampment residents at Alexandra Park, Moss Park, and Lamport Stadium, where the previous eviction in May had led to clashes between police and citizens, which included allegations of police officers wearing far-right endorsed “Thin Blue Line” badges.

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