Trials to be set for August 18 homeless encampments eviction arrestees amid concerns about the justice system

February 21, 2022

Each and every person across Turtle Island, regardless of circumstance, deserves safety, dignity, and respect, none of which were shown by HRM or their police on August 18, 2021 during the violent eviction of encampments and unlawful arrests of those expressing opposition to the eviction.

“No one should face prosecutions and the risk of convictions for criminal offences that are based on unlawful state and police actions,” said Asaf Rashid, lawyer representing 8 individuals arrested on August 18, whose matters are being set for trial. Sadly, a number of individuals are still facing charges from arrests on August 18, when they were present at the old Memorial library site, exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, on unceded Mi’kmaw territory, in opposition to the unlawful forced evictions of homeless encampments. Those arrested were the victims of a multitude of violations of their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These include their rights to expression and assembly, to not be subjected to excessive force, the immediate right to counsel, and the right to not be subjected to discrimination from state authorities, as BIPOC and Queer and Trans persons were targeted and suffered harsher treatment. “There were many witnesses to the police misconduct that day. The courts ought to distance themselves from endorsing such misconduct,” said Rashid.

Trials will be set on February 22, and the constitutionality of HRM and police actions will be raised as part of the trial.

On August 18, those living in encampments suffered a violation of their rights to liberty and security of the person under s. 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms due to the forced evictions when there were no adequate and accessible alternatives available. Police used the ‘no camping’ provision in the By-law respecting Municipal Parks, as well as the Protection of Property Act to enforce evictions, under the orders of the City, which should be considered unconstitutional. “Arrests of those expressing opposition to the evictions were made during what should be considered unlawful enforcement actions of the police, which should make those arrests unlawful,” said Rashid.

On August 18, there were hundreds of homeless people in HRM with many staying in homeless encampments; today there are over 450 homeless in the city, and many are still in encampments. The existence of homeless encampments is a symptom of a total failure of all levels of government to address the housing crisis which they allowed to happen.

As was revealed to the media this past November, housing support workers were left in the dark about when HRM planned their forced eviction, compromising any possibility that adequate housing solutions could be found. Adequate housing for all those evicted on August 18 was not available on August 18, but HRM’s surprise mass eviction made matters worse. Adequate housing still has not been provided to homeless people in the city. The UN’s National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada makes clear that there must be consultation with those at encampments, including access to free and independent legal advice prior to any forced mandatory relocation. This did not happen prior to the August 18 eviction.

“The right of homeless encampment dwellers in the HRM to be heard was denied. Just last month, the Supreme Court of BC decided that residents of a park encampment in Vancouver were wrongly ordered to leave the park, as they did not have adequate housing alternatives available and the City failed to protect their Charter rights in ordering them to leave. This certainly provides guidance that the actions by the HRM were also unlawful,”, said Rashid.

There was widespread outrage and public condemnation of the actions of the city and police on August 18, raising questions about the priorities of the justice system in spending resources on policing homeless people, and violence used on those standing up for the rights of homeless people. Thousands signed a petition to call for an independent inquiry into police actions on August 18, which, in addition to the arrests, included indiscriminate use of pepper spray – including exposure of children to spray – and restricting media access.

The HRM and the police deployed substantial resources for the August 18 operation, which resulted in further marginalization of targeted and vulnerable communities. This only emphasizes the urgency of defunding the police, and for the public to strongly oppose a proposed $2 million increase in the police budget to be decided on February 23rd by Halifax Reginal council.

Additionally, there has been widespread concern about the contrast between police responses to the “Freedom Convoy” (convoy) compared with their responses to the defence of homeless encampments and other movements. “With the convoy, police have taken an approach that avoided escalation. Rights to freedom of expression and assembly have been almost unlimited, with the protest encampment in Ottawa remaining for weeks before police ended it. Convoy actions that disrupted traffic in Halifax and other parts of Nova Scotia were allowed to continue until concluded. Meanwhile, those opposing the eviction of homeless people were hardly afforded any time and space for expression and assembly before there was a violent response by police,” said Rashid.

This uneven application of freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly rights, in addition to criminalization of homeless people, should give the public reason for concern about whether the justice system is functioning in the interests of historically targeted and vulnerable people. A disproportionate number of those arrested were BIPOC, Queer and Trans, and a disproportionately high number of those living in encampments are also from those communities, in addition to dealing with other challenges, such as mental health and addictions. “How can people have faith and confidence in a justice system where rights seem to be dependent on a person’s position and privilege in society, and on and politics? And where arrests, charges, and prosecutions of those at protests or community mobilizations seem to be based more on those same factors than what someone has actually done?”, said Rashid.

Those arrested on August 18 remain resolved that their arrests and treatment they suffered on August 18 were unlawful and are hopeful of vindication in their trials, and that the justice system will show that it can function in the interests of historically targeted and vulnerable people.

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