Violent scenes unfolded at Toronto’s Lamport Stadium park Wednesday as the city and police forcibly evict those living in an encampment there.
Officers could be seen rushing to push up against the metal barrier as they came face-to-face with demonstrators. At least one person appeared to have jumped the fence and was seen being arrested by police.
Nearby, police could be seen tearing down a makeshift barrier of wooden pallets before several people were led away in handcuffs.
By 2 p.m., police had completely cleared the site having physically removed those who wouldn’t leave. An exact number of arrests was not immediately available.
City officials and police began forcibly evicting those living at the site early on Wednesday morning. The move comes one day after similar enforcement action led to the arrests of nine people at Alexandra Park.
The recent encampment clearings come after residents living at four large encampments, including Lamport Stadium, were issued trespass notices last month. They were warned they could be removed if they refused to leave and face fines of up to $10,000 if convicted. The city estimated between 14 and 17 people live at Lamport Stadium and said they would be offered indoor living accommodation and other supports.
Security guards and dozens of Toronto police officers arrived at Lamport Stadium, just east of the intersection of King and Dufferin streets, around dawn. Workers built a temporary fence around the site.
Several community organizations put out calls on social media for concerned residents to demonstrate at the park Wednesday morning and about 100 people showed up to lend support to encampment residents. Some who were volunteering with the Encampment Support Network, an advocacy group, were passing bottles of water and packages of food to those behind the fence.
“The police told us we were not allowed to bring food and humanitarian relief in but we had to help,” said Kortnee Sterr. “We had to resort to this measure of community support and advocacy, by throwing things over the fence.”
Speaking to reporters just before police moved in, Toronto Police Staff Supt. Randy Carter referenced the number of people who arrived at the park to show their support, adding police had warned the park was closed.
“Unfortunately now, we have a lot of people here and these people all have to leave,” he said. “We don’t want to use any force.”
On Tuesday, nine people were arrested — seven for trespassing — as staff and police dismantled a makeshift community in Alexandra Park. Among those detained was a photographer for The Canadian Press, who was handcuffed by a city security guard and released with a trespass notice.
Trespass notices carry no charge, but prevent a person from returning to a site for 90 days.
Of the 26 people who were living in the Alexandra Park encampment, seven took offers for indoor accommodation in a city-run hotel or shelter, while 19 left on their own.
Police and security used temporary fencing to keep media and demonstrators away from the area being cleared, and employed the same approach at Lamport Stadium this morning. The city said that one television reporter and one photographer would be allowed within the fencing today.
Speaking at a COVID-19 briefing, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he believes that it is “important that we have transparency” but also said he has “no involvement” in decisions regarding press freedom during the clearings.
He suggested decisions were made to keep people safe but did not elaborate on why that involved limiting media access to a public park.
Brad Ross, spokesperson for the City of Toronto, suggested that the presence of media cameras intimidates those living in the encampments and hinders staff’s ability to speak to them about potential options.
Joey Mauger was among the encampment residents who didn’t want to leave Lamport Stadium today.
“Me and my friends, we don’t bother anybody,” he said from behind the orange fence set up around the encampment. “We like it here, we don’t want to go and we don’t know where we’re going to go.”
Mauger said he had been living at the encampment for six months with his partner. He said he was previously put up in a hotel by the city but left because he didn’t feel safe due to random check-ins.
“I’m too scared and not sure about anything anymore,” he said, adding that he wanted affordable permanent housing.
The clearing of another encampment at Trinity Bellwoods Park last month drew criticism for the disproportionate use of force by police.
Tory defended that operation but promised a review of what took place.
Early in the pandemic, hundreds fled Toronto’s homeless shelters for fear of contracting COVID-19, setting up tents in parks throughout the city.
Recent data obtained by The Canadian Press also shows a significant rise in violent incidents in Toronto’s shelter system over the last five years.
The city maintains the shelter system is safe and has said it will eventually clear all of the homeless encampments, which it says are unsafe. City council also recently passed a motion to end encampments.