Community members rallied ahead of a precedent-setting decision on the Belle Park encampment on Monday.
Gathered in front of the Frontenac County Court House, rally-goers showed their support for Belle Park encampment residents ahead of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice’s hearing on an injunction which would allow the City of Kingston to evict approximately 35 people living in Belle Park.
The rally was organized prior to the Oct. 30 hearing by the Encampment Support Network, with Queen’s and community members making speeches.
“Queen’s students will not tolerate the continual neglect and abuse of our unhoused neighbors on our dime,” said Dylyn Reid-Davies, MA ’24 in sociology, and director of the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre, to the crowd.
Belle Park is Kingston’s largest encampment of unhoused residents. The encampment is located behind the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) off Montreal St., a shelter and safe injection site.
“Today I call on Queen’s students and community members to stand in solidarity with encampment residents to ensure our community is well supported and cared for,” Reid-Davies said.
Retired United Church Minister Dawn Clarke reminded rally-goers of the greater implications of the court’s decision.
“This court case happening in Kingston today and tomorrow decides what is likely to be a precedent for the rest of Ontario. The decision made here may affect people all over the province who are living without housing,” Clarke said.
Fourteen Belle Park encampment claimants are taking the City to court, citing violations of their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Kingston Community Legal Clinic (KCLC) is representing encampment residents in their claim that the city is violating their Charter rights to life, liberty, security, and equal protection under the law.
KCLC and residents are calling the constitutionality of Kingston bylaw 2009-76 into question in their lawsuit. The bylaw prohibits camping and the use of camping equipment on public property.
The City applied to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to enforce the bylaw in July of 2023. The bylaw would provide the City a legal basis to clear the Belle Park encampment.
The purpose of the bylaw is to promote the safe use and proper management of parks, City legal representative Nik De Stefano explained on Monday.
At the court hearing, Will McDowell, another City representative, worried Kingston has become the landlord of dangerous property. McDowell cited an increased number of police and fire department calls to the area, an alleged link between drug and human trafficking in the encampment, and the vandalism of hydropoles near the encampment.
McDowell used this line of reasoning to defend the city against claims the City is violating encampment residents’ rights. From the City’s perspective, the Belle Park encampment isn’t secure.
Representing the encampment residents, John Done of the KCLC defended the purported safety of the encampment by its proximity to the ICH. Done claimed approximately 98 per cent of encampment residents used drugs, with many using fentanyl. The ICH is the only service in Kingston offering 24/7 post-consumption care and Done claimed the ICH has reversed over 1,400 overdoses.
Done said there are approximately 480 names on Kingston’s homelessness registry, and only 166 available shelter beds. For some encampment residents, shelter restrictions disallowing couples, pets, or drug paraphernalia deter them from relocating. The restrictions are an important component of the encampment residents’ court case.
Shelter capacity played a crucial role in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice’s decision to decline the Region of Waterloo’s application to remove an unhoused encampment in January.
Prior to March 2023, when Kingston’s Encampment Protocol was reinstated, City Council continually voted to pause the protocol, limiting the issuing of trespassing notices.
Kingston’s Encampment Protocol involved providing encampment residents with information on available services, informing the Housing and Social Services Department on individual needs, and issuing a six-hour trespass notice.
The court proceedings will continue Nov. 9.
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