Trinity-Bellwoods encampment evictions ‘reasonable, firm, but compassionate:’ Tory

TORONTO — Toronto Mayor John Tory defended the actions of police and private security tasked with evicting several dozen homeless people from Trinity-Bellwoods Park on Tuesday, saying it was “mostly peaceful,” despite police using pepper spray, horses and at one point encircling people with metal fences.

After issuing trespass notices at the encampment 10 days earlier, police, shelter administration and private security guards descended on the west-end park on Tuesday to remove about 25 people who live in tents in the park and refer them to shelters or city-paid hotel rooms.

Protesters gathered in defence of the encampment dwellers, and city crews began erecting a large blue metal fence around the area, they claimed to help facilitate cleaning.

There were clashes between demonstrators and police, some who were on horseback, some clad in full riot gear, and pepper spray was reportedly used against those demonstrating.

Police later said three people were arrested at the scene, one for assaulting a peace officer, another for weapons possession.

Also detained was nationally-recognized photojournalist Ian Willms, who was documenting the evictions.

The Canadian Association of Journalists issued a statement calling Willms’ detention “a complete overreaction.”

“I stand by what we have done which is a reasonable, firm, but compassionate way of dealing with this where we offer ways to take people safely indoors to housing, but there does come a time when it comes to camping in parks, which is unsafe and illegal, where you have to take action,” Tory told CP24

He said he was not involved in determining details of police deployment and tactics but otherwise supported their actions.

“I support what they did and I think it mostly went quite peacefully.”

Tory said that there were no active outbreaks of COVID-19 in any city shelter facility anymore, and that city workers had made thousands of attempts to convince encampment dwellers to come inside over the past year.

“We’re quite insistent that it’s no place for people to be in a park in terms of their own safety and besides which it is illegal,” he told CP24.

Activists and one encampment dweller told CP24 on Tuesday that shelters are still considered to be crowded, with the threat of physical violence and theft all too common.

Tory said most people who agreed to leave an encampment lately were offered a hotel room.

“They’re offered a hotel room, this is not something that can be seen to be unsafe.”

The evicted persons were allowed to bring two bags of possessions with them if they agreed to vacate, with the rest of the items found in the encampment to remain at the park for pickup later.

Each person was to be offered meals, harm reduction, physical and mental health supports and access to a housing worker.

Net spending on shelter and re-housing in Toronto is up from $365.8 million pre-pandemic in 2019 to $663.2 million this year.

Tory said the budget numbers indicate Toronto is “working harder than any city government” on the issue of shelter and housing supports.

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