After 17 days, Jordan Geldert-Hautala finally stepped out of his tiny shelter box in Toronto’s Clarence Square Park to breathe a sigh of relief that he would not be arrested. The 45-year-old is alleging that police harassment had kept him confined to his tiny living space over fears of being arrested.
“I have been suffering abuse from the police over the past 17 days,” he said. “I’ve been confined to my shelter with warrants they have no rights to pick me up on.”
“That is criminal behaviour from people who are supposed to be acting for the law.”
Geldert-Hautala has lived in the park on and off for the past two years and up until recently, there were no problems until the police came knocking.
He says that over the past few weeks they’ve visited several times with a warrant for minor bail offences in Quebec and tried to remove him from his living space. However, Geldart-Hautala stayed put.
In a video posted to Twitter by Encampment Support Network Parkdale, police officers are alleged to have said that they would and could take Geldert-Hautala into custody if he stepped outside.
“If he steps out and rushed back in there, we’re allowed to come and take him,” an officer said.
Two officers are allegedlly heard telling Geldert-Hautala that they don’t know if he can last in the shelter and nobody could help him.
“We don’t see you staying in there for five, six, seven, eight, nine days.
“Nobody’s going to be bringing him food.”
The decision to come after Geldert-Hautala is a concerning one, according to his legal team.
“It is a strange decision for police to enforce these old warrants from another province,” said Aliah El-Houni, co-director of Community Justice Collective.
El-Houni told Global News that “(Toronto police) 52 Division have been visiting for weeks and harassing him, telling him that if he left his home, he’d be arrested and sent to Montreal to address these charges.
However, Toronto Police Services (TPS) claim that by removing Geldert-Hautala from his home they would be helping him.
“We are aware there is a warrant from Quebec. Our officers have attempted to assist the man on a voluntary basis and they communicated with him, a social worker and his lawyer to help return him to Quebec to attend to his charges and get them resolved,” wrote a TPS spokesperson.
They added that Geldert-Hautala had agreed to leave Wednesday, which both he and his lawyer refused.
Despite the video and Geldert-Hautala’s legal team insisting that officers threatened to arrest him, a TPS spokesperson said officers were trying to resolve the charges and wouldn’t have pursued an arrest.
“Officers have only ever attempted to assist him with resolving the charges and while we have the authority to arrest the man, we will not be arresting him on the strength of the warrant,” reads a TPS statement.
With police arguing that all their actions were voluntary and in Geldert-Hautala’s best interests, his defence lawyer disputes that notion altogether.
“I think it’s super important to consider how voluntary the action is when there is no other information and high pressure of enforcer and threat of basic needs denies and violent removal,” she said.
Around 3 p.m. on Wednesday, the Quebec crown prosecutor dropped all outstanding warrant charges against Geldert-Hautala.
Geldert-Hautala, who is originally from Nelson, B.C. said that he has been on the streets since he was 11 years old. He told Global News that as a child he was placed in a residential school and struggled to feel comfortable in most housing situations.
“It was a lot harder to scrounge for things — it meant finding dumpsters, private gardens and taking food from them,” he said.
With the banners of “Land Back” and “no one is illegal on stolen land” in the area of his encampment, he wants it to be known that he should be allowed to live there.
“This is our land.”
For his desire to be open about his Indigeneity and Toronto’s recent enforcement of encampments, Geldert-Hautala and his lawyers think he’s being targeted by police.
“I believe that’s absolutely a possibility and I also believe that’s already what’s been going on,” El-Houni said. “I believe there is a possibility of the ongoing targeted harassment.”
That same belief is held by Aliya Pabani, an organizer with Encampment Support Network Parkdale that has assisted Geldert-Hautala.
Pabani was one of the people on the ground when police attempted to serve Geldert-Hautala with his warrant. She added that they were insisting that he needed to step out of his encampment to receive it — which he was advised against doing by his lawyers.
“He’s a leader, he’s become a voice and a face for so many and if they can target him, they can stop people from supporting him,” she said.
Pabani has seen Geldert-Hautala in the neighbourhood for a while and said that he has become a staple for those who live in the area.”
“A lot of the neighbours in the condo buildings have befriended him, they bring their dogs, they come to hang out,” Pabani said.
The support has been overwhelming to Geldert-Hautala, as friends and supporters have set up nearby tents to ensure his safety.
“This is the first time I’ve been outside…I was amazed, I didn’t expect that many people,” he said.
Geldert-Hautala has no immediate desire to leave, instead hoping to use the park as a space for others experiencing homeless to get services. He has helped organized ID and legal clinics, nurse visits, food rationing, and connecting people to housing, and water — all from his tiny home in the park.
“I’m not leaving until the job is done,” said Geldert-Hautala. “That means helping other people.”
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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