Fallout from Toronto's homeless encampment removals continues

·4 min read
People living in an encampment at Lamport Stadium, in downtown Toronto, faced forceable eviction by order of the city on July 21, 2021.  (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
People living in an encampment at Lamport Stadium, in downtown Toronto, faced forceable eviction by order of the city on July 21, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Toronto resident Alicia Soerensen has filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) as a result of what she alleges was an unlawful arrest during police officers' attempt to clear a homeless encampment from Lamport Stadium park on Wednesday.

In her complaint, Soerensen alleges she was unlawfully arrested, that her rights to counsel were not upheld by the police, and that the arresting officers also did not explain her rights to her clearly.

"I believe I was wrongfully arrested, and there was excessive force used by Toronto police," she told the CBC. "The police has way too much power and weapons to be acting like this, there needs to be a lot more accountability to the public."

Paul Smith/CBC
Paul Smith/CBC

Soerensen says she was standing on a public roadway watching the confrontation unfold when a woman attempted to pass a water bottle to a person behind the fence.

She alleges a police officer then struck the woman in the face, and when a man attempted to intervene, security surrounded him.

She alleges that someone then yelled at police, which prompted an officer to attack.

"I was in shock and disbelief that a police officer would physically attack someone unprovoked in this way," Soerensen wrote in her complaint to the OIPRD.

"This man was walking away from the officers and did not pose a physical threat … he was clearly retreating," she wrote.

Soerensen alleges she was unlawfully arrested for trespassing after yelling at the police officer, "What the f--- is wrong with you."

Paul Smith/CBC
Paul Smith/CBC

A spokesperson for Toronto police declined to comment, saying "it would be inappropriate" given the OIPRD complaint. However, the spokesperson directed CBC Toronto to a news release sent out one day after Soerensen's complaint.

In it, the police say they are searching for a person they allege assaulted a police officer during a confrontation outside 14 Division Police Station on Wednesday evening.

The confrontation took place following two days in which police officers' removal of homeless encampments at Alexandra Park and Lamport Stadium park sparked violent confrontations with protestors and resulted in more than 35 arrests.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Police allege this person threw something at an officer who "was struck and was treated for injuries."

The violent confrontations have divided the city, including its elected officials.

Earlier this week, five city councillors released a signed letter calling for an end to violence during forced evictions at homeless encampments in city parks and arguing that Mayor John Tory's approach has not been an effective solution.

In the letter, city councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam, Shelley Carroll, Mike Layton, Josh Matlow and Gord Perks wrote that they believe that the Moss Park encampment will be cleared by police in the coming weeks.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

"In advance of this imminent clearing, we demand an end to the violence and extreme show of force. There is absolutely no need for batons, pepper spray or even guns, not when the work should be done by the City's Streets to Home staff and other outreach workers," they wrote.

Mayor John Tory's office sent CBC Toronto a lengthy written response on Friday afternoon rebutting the councillors' comments and praising the work done by city staff.

"After thousands and thousands of visits offering housing before and after trespass notices are issued, there does come a time when an encampment cannot continue to occupy a public park, to threaten the safety and health of people experiencing homelessness, and impact the families and communities who rely on these parks," Mayor Tory said in the statement.

Local lawyer Astrid Mrkich and others put up signs at Trinity-Bellwoods, Alexandra Park and Lamport Stadium that mimic official city signs, with messaging that reads, "police brutality is underway" and "city housing crisis is underway."

Mrkich said the purpose of the signage is to remind residents in the neighbourhood of the recent events in the parks.

"We didn't want people to forget about recent events," she said. "I think what the city has wanted to do is erase residents' memory of what happened at the park, so that they don't get any criticism from what happened there."

The city responded by promptly removing the signs.

"The city can confirm a number of related signs were removed by Parks staff," it told the CBC in a statement.

"The city does not authorize signage without a permit."

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