CANADA | Toronto's Ombudsman says City Chose Speed over People in Clearing Encampments

Toronto’s Ombudsman says the City of Toronto showed significant unfairness in the clearing of encampments in Trinity Bellwoods, Alexandra, and Lamport Stadium parks in the summer of 2021.

In the report released on 24 March 2023, titled "Investigation into the City's Clearing of Encampments in 2021", Ombudsman Kwame Addo acknowledged the efforts of many City staff to care for people experiencing homelessness. "Encampments and supporting the people living in them are complex. But the City owes a particularly high duty of fairness to these residents."

The investigation, which focused on how the City planned the encampment clearings, engaged stakeholders, and communicated with the public, found a number of problems, including that the City:

  • Treated its encampment clearings as a top priority, even though there was no evidence suggesting that encampments required that level of urgency.
  • Chose to clear encampments quickly, instead of focusing on the needs of the people living in them.
  • Knew that people in encampments had complex mental health needs, yet failed to include plans to address those needs.
  • Did not encourage meaningful engagement with people living in encampments.
  • Communicated with people living in encampments in a way that was confusing, lacked transparency, and showed a lack of understanding about their reality.
  • Provided no dedicated onsite staff for people in encampments to speak with, even though the City knew they had questions, which went unanswered.

Toronto’s Ombudsman says "our investigation found the City displayed insufficient regard for the people it moved out of the parks. It failed to live up to its stated commitments to fairness and a human rights-based approach to housing."

In addition to the 8 recommendations made in his interim report in July 2022, Addo made an additional 23 recommendations in this final report, including that the City should:

  • Formalize the creation of a group of City divisions with a diverse set of skills and expertise to collaboratively lead its encampment response.
  • Prioritize the needs of those living in the encampment, if it determines it is necessary to move them out.
  • Create a detailed plan outlining how it will support access to physical and mental health services for those living in encampments.
  • Create a strategy for engaging with people living in encampments, including specific strategies for Indigenous communities, as well as racialized and equity-deserving groups.

Addo notes that encampments are not going away any time soon. “It is unrealistic to expect the City to solve the housing crisis on its own. Real solutions require the involvement of all levels of government. However, the City is responsible for treating its residents fairly, especially those experiencing housing precarity and homelessness.”

"While my recommendations will not solve all the challenges of encampments,” says Addo, “It is my hope they will ensure that, from now on, the City responds to encampments and treats the people living in them with fairness, transparency, and accountability."


Source: The Office of the Ombudsman Toronto, Canada

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