A man was found dead at a homeless encampment north of Edmonton’s downtown Sunday, prompting city officials to briefly pause their plans to clear the camp.
Edmonton police say paramedics were conducting wellness checks on residents of the camp following a propane tank explosion early Sunday when the man’s body was found in a tent.
In a statement, the city said the discovery of the body and the tank explosion are not related. City spokesperson Janice Schroeder said there were no injuries reported from the explosion.
The death doesn’t appear to be criminal, police said.
The man’s death is the latest in a string of deaths at encampments in Edmonton this winter as a legal battle over how the city and police approach camp removals continues.
On Dec. 29, a woman was found dead at an encampment in the area of 102nd Avenue and Alex Taylor Road. On the morning of Dec. 24, police were called to the sudden death of a man in the area of 92nd Street and Jasper Avenue. Both deaths are considered non-criminal, and neither is believed to be the result of a fire.
Clearance of the camp north of downtown continued later Sunday. The city said 15 people were removed from the site as well as 10 propane tanks.
Schroeder said two people suffered burns and were transported to hospital after a fire at another homeless camp in the same neighbourhood on Sunday. She said the fires and explosions highlight the dangers of the camps as temperatures drop.
“The colder it gets, the more challenge there is with fires on site,” she said.
The camp that was cleared Sunday was the seventh the city has dismantled in recent weeks in accordance with an interim court order, which was granted after city and a human rights group reached an agreement for eight camps that are considered a public safety risk to be taken down.
All eight camps, deemed high risk by the city, were slated to be removed on Dec. 18, but the plan was paused after a wave of public backlash and a request for an emergency injunction.
The interim order will last until Thursday, when court will hear an earlier injunction application from Edmonton-based Coalition for Justice and Human Rights, which has launched a lawsuit against the city over its policy of removing homeless camps.
WATCH | Workers clear an encampment Wednesday in central Edmonton:
The coalition has argued the closures violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the fundamental human rights of encampment residents.
“Over the last few weeks, we have been supporting community members at the displacements and have seen firsthand how this policy is a failure, deeply colonial, and traumatic,” the group wrote in a public Facebook post Friday.
“People pack up only to set up a block away. This is not a solution.”
The city said that with the continued dry conditions in Edmonton, the risks of injury and death due to fires at homeless camps remain extremely high.
It was –16 C in Edmonton on Sunday, and the forecast called for overnight lows below –20 C for the coming week.
In 2023, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services responded to 135 fires in encampments resulting in 22 injuries and three deaths.
The city says it is providing notice to camp occupants as well as social agencies prior to the closures.
As part of the agreement to close the camps, the city says it is also making sure there is sufficient shelter space or other indoor space for residents.
If there is not enough space, it says officers will close a camp only if there’s a danger to public health and safety, and that the city will consider the cold weather in its decision making.
“As colder weather sets in and shelter usage increases, the city will review plans to ensure ongoing sufficient shelter capacity exists before moving forward with the final planned closure,” the city’s statement Sunday said.
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