OPINION: Encampment evictions are violent colonial displacement

Nov 24, 2023 | OP-ED, Opinion

As the season’s first snowflakes drifted down today on a cold November morning, the City of Toronto prepared to evict the residents of the St. Stephen-in-the-Fields church encampment.

Never mind that Toronto shelters are turning down more than 300 people a day during the warm months. Or that most evicted residents end up back on the streets, often in new encampments.

“We all know there’s not enough shelter spaces,” said Alison Falby, the Priest-Director at All Saints Church-Community Centre. “If the city just gets this group of people shelter spaces, that means other people won’t get them.”

Alison describes it as a cruel game of Whac-A-Mole, where the city chases encampment residents from park to park.

These evictions are violent and traumatic experiences that rip apart these small communities, which provide a sense of security that residents say they lack in shelters.

The City has been waging a war on encampments since 2021, with several high-profile evictions occurring at Lamport Stadium, Trinity-Bellwoods Park and Alexandra Park.

During the Lamport Stadium eviction, Toronto Police violently beat protestors who were standing arm-in-arm to protect tents with their bodies. Several were arrested, which led to a protest outside TPS Division 14, where police indiscriminately doused protesters in pepper spray.

Earlier this summer, 25 trespass tickets were withdrawn and six absolute discharges were given to protesters who were facing charges.

Obviously, encampments are not a solution to homelessness, but neither are shelters. The actual solution is housing for all, guaranteed as a human right.

Both the United Nations and the Ontario Human Rights Commission agree.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

All three tiers of government are failing miserably. Blame is passed around in a petty game of partisan bickering while the consequence of their inaction is felt in the streets.

Olivia Chow has been a particular disappointment as many progressives believed her victory meant the days of violent displacement were in the past.

To add insult to injury, Indigenous people represent 15 per cent of the unhoused population in Toronto, even though they only make up 2.5 per cent of the population. This is another chapter in the long history of colonial violence against indigenous communities in Canada.

The great irony is that ending homelessness entirely would cost less than continuing the status quo.

In other words, homelessness is a policy choice. Just look at Finland, whose Housing First Strategy has seen homelessness fall drastically while the rest of the European Union sees numbers rise.

We can and must solve this crisis.

As the oft-quoted saying goes, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”