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'A heartless attack': Human rights group takes EPS to court over large-scale plan to tear down encampments before Christmas


A court has granted an interim injunction against the Edmonton Police Service and the City of Edmonton to stop plans to clear eight homeless camp sites next week.

City spokesperson Alison Turner told CTV News Edmonton in a statement the city was served late Thursday with an emergency injunction related to planned encampment closures, with the court adjourning the matter until Monday at 11 a.m.

She said there has been no decision on the application.

"The court has implemented an interim 'interim injunction' until 12 p.m. Monday, December 18, 2023, to allow the Court proceedings to continue," Turner said. "The city will comply with this direction from the court. The city cannot comment further, however, as this matter remains actively before the courts."

The interim injunction comes a day after police plans to clear 134 structures at the sites in the city's core just days before Christmas became known to a group of agencies involved in homeless support, according to a local human rights advocate.

Sam Mason, the president of the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights, in a sworn affidavit dated Thursday said she found out during a meeting of agencies involved with housing-insecure people in Edmonton that the city police plans to displace and remove "a large number of encampments" from eight central locations next week.

They include structures at Herb Jamison, the Bissell Centre and Hope Mission, at 95 Street and 101A Avenue, 94 Street and 106 Avenue, 95 Street and 105A Avenue, and the Dawson and Kinnard ravines.

Ward Nakota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack said Saturday that police raised concerns in November about criminal activity in some encampments.

While EPS is a city department, Knack said council hasn't been given details on how police plan to help encampment residents who are not involved in criminal activity.

Council also can't tell police how to enforce the law, he added.

"I don't think there's anyone who would suggest that EPS shouldn't be going in to address criminal activity to arrest those who are breaking the law and to make sure they're brought to justice," Knack said. "At the same time, how do we make sure we're treating humanely those who are just in need and who don't have a place to go?

"That's the big question."

Edmonton police told CTV News Edmonton they aren't able to provide a response as they await the outcome in court.

Mason said in the affidavit when Caitlin Beaton, the city's program manager of homelessness prevention who informed the group of the plan, was asked at the Sector Emergency Response meeting if a contingency plan is in place for those displaced by the encampment removals, she said she had "limited information about the planned removals" as Edmonton police are "undertaking the displacements."

Meeting attendees, including Beaton, agreed there is insufficient shelter space available for unhoused people in Edmonton.

Mason told CTV News Edmonton she expects "to see loss of life more than we would otherwise" if the displacements go ahead. She said the coalition's counsel was in court Friday afternoon to address an injunction hearing they have scheduled for Jan. 11 to address the city's plans to dismantle camps.

"If it goes ahead the way that it's scheduled ... we're going to see amputations, we're going to see people get hypothermia, it'll further overload our health-care system that is not prepared for this," Mason said. "I know a lot of Edmontonians believe that once we close encampments then maybe that means people will access shelter ... but there's too many people living on the street, so there will be more encampments and they will get moved further out from services."

According to the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, the planned displacements come at a time when there are more than 3,100 homeless in the city with 1,126 shelter spaces available, according to Homeward Trust daily reports.

The coalition said some estimates suggest as many as 300 people live at the targeted locations.

"It's a heartless attack on the weakest and most struggling people in the community. It's often presented by officials as like they're tidying up litter, but what we're really talking about is tearing away the places where people live -- a great danger and stress to those people," Jim Gurnett, a spokesman for the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, told CTV News Edmonton.

"We just have to understand that this is an utter violation of any kind of human dignity or rights for people, and especially the way we do it in Edmonton with knowing full well that there is no option for the people who are being evicted and attacked in this way is outrageous and unacceptable."

Gurnett said the police's rumoured move is "a reaction maybe to some pressure to get things done" but that tearing down the camps isn't a solution.

"What people don't understand is that this kind of aggressive approach to people resolves nothing," he said. "The people still have to have somewhere to live, and if you tear down the campsites where they are there, they're still going to have to live someplace. That's going to create a challenge."

In a statement shared on social-media platform X, Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley and housing critic Janis Irwin called on the province's solicitor general to "immediately put a stop to these plans."

"Wholesale razing of encampments puts lives in danger. It's that simple," they said in the statement.

"Even if there were enough shelter spaces to accommodate all those being displaced, many people do not feel safe in those shelters." 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's John Hanson Top Stories

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