Slideshow of scenes from Trinity Bellwoods Park.
Halifax’s housing crisis—and official discomfort over the visible homeless population—is not unique. In Toronto, at Trinity Bellwoods Park, a police and bylaw officer presence on June 22 forced nearly 25 people to leave their temporary homes and shelters in the park.
The eviction included pepper spray and at least three arrests, and made national headlines. Backlash against the city continues after mayor John Tory installed a fence to permanently block residents from returning to the park, and there's now a petition to discuss the issue at the next city council meeting.
In Halifax, the municipality has set a similar deadline for at least 11 Halifax residents to dismantle and abandon their crisis shelters or “sheds” in various public parks by Tuesday.
“A deadline date of July 13, 2021 has been given to remove the shelters–failing which, the shelters, and any personal items contained within the shelters, will be removed by the municipality on or shortly after this date without further notice,” said a statement from the city.
Halifax has already gone back on its word and removed shelters in advance of its own deadline, and Halifax Mutual Aid, the organization that helped construct the shelters, is worried something similar to Trinity Bellwoods could happen here.
“If someone is dragged out of one of these shelters by a police officer, I’ll be down there with Mutual Aid protesting against the police.”
—councillor Shawn Cleary
"We saw what happened in Toronto at the Trinity Bellwood camps. That was a very forceful eviction of people who not only had made their homes there but established a community where they looked out for one another and supported one another,” said Campbell McClintock, a spokesperson for the non-profit.
The municipality couldn’t say what happens on July 13 if people are still living in the shelters. When The Coast asked last week, an HRM spokesperson said it’s “optimistic” everyone will leave willingly. When asked again Monday, HRM said “at this stage we cannot speculate as to whether [police/private security] will be necessary.”
Councillor Shawn Cleary, who represents District 9 of Halifax West Armdale, says he hopes that Trinity Bellwoods isn’t repeated here.
“We’ve seen Trinity Bellwoods in Toronto, we do not want that to happen here in Halifax,” he told The Coast in an interview Thursday evening. “If anything like that happens, council will be outraged at our staff, council will be outraged at the police. We do not want the police dragging people out of these shacks and throwing them out onto the street.”
But as July 13 approaches, residents of the shelters are worried they will lose their homes, and Halifax Mutual Aid is unsure what the day will look like. “We're gonna try to prepare for whatever they may do,” said McClintock. “But we have no intentions of removing people's homes.”
McClintock said HMA’s decision is backed up by a precedent. “There’s no legitimate argument for the city to remove these shelters,” he says. “There are Charter protections for this, Section 7 of the Charter has been upheld by the BC Supreme Court for the right to people who are unhoused and have no support to camp out in parks. So that would make their decision to remove the shelters not only unethical but illegal.”
McClintock said an appeals process through the human rights board may “become necessary.”
Cleary said that while it’s too much of a liability issue for the city, as well as a breach of a parks bylaw, for the crisis shelters to remain in the parks, he doesn’t want police to be the ones rectifying the situation. “If someone is dragged out of one of these shelters by a police officer,” the councillor said, “I’ll be down there with Mutual Aid protesting against the police.”