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Tory accuses protesters of 'obstructing, harassing' city staff at homeless encampments

Last Updated Jul 21, 2021 at 1:00 pm EDT

Police make arrests while removing a homeless encampment at Lamport Stadium on May 19, 2021. 680 NEWS/Mark Douglas

Journalists have been among those arrested during the tense scenes

Mayor Tory said efforts to move vulnerable people indoors are being hampered by some protesters

Mayor John Tory is defending the continued dismantling of homeless encampments, saying Toronto has taken a “compassionate, but firm” approach, while accusing some protesters of escalating tensions and harassing city staff.

In an update Wednesday, Tory reiterated that anyone evicted is offered indoor housing, with the city even giving people experiencing homelessness guided tours of potential living spaces being offered up.

But Tory said efforts to move vulnerable people indoors are being hampered by some protesters.

“Some of the city staff … have been followed home,” Tory alleged. “They have been harassed at their homes. They face all kinds of verbal abuse, the likes of which most people would never be expected to put up with in their jobs, from frankly, the protesters.”

Tory added that the large presence of protesters, “necessitates” a larger police presence to assure safety — a recipe for some of the clashes that have led to arrests.

“It just creates an element that can lead to less than safe conditions,” he said.

“We are trying our very best to do this in a way that I describe as compassionate, but also firm. Firm in the sense that we must find safer, more healthy, legal indoor accommodates for people who have needs for more supports,” Tory said.

Toronto police say nine people were arrested Tuesday at a homeless encampment at Alexandra Park in the area of Dundas and Bathurst streets, with police enforcing trespass notices issued June 12.

Police were back on Wednesday to continue enforcing the notices, this time at Lamport Stadium Park near King and Dufferin streets.

Tory also accused some protesters of spreading misinformation, including telling people experiencing homelessness that Toronto shelters “are full of COVID,” which Tory said “couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“In some cases (city staff) have been literally obstructed from talking to the people experiencing homelessness because the protesters have decided that they know better than anything a Streets to Homes worker might say.

“I can’t say I find it acceptable because these are hard-working people trying to do their jobs.”

Activist and author Desmond Cole has been an outspoken critic of the police response at encampments.

“The plan was obviously to pretend to offer people housing and then…to say if you are not out of here in 15 minutes, you are breaking the law,” he told CityNews on Tuesday.

“It’s just another shameless display of the criminalization of poverty in the city and more of Mayor Tory’s attempt to hide poverty instead of dealing with it as he’s supposed to.”

While Tory accused protesters of obstructing the work of city staff, he also faced allegations that police were obstructing the media from properly covering the dismantling of encampments.

Journalists have been among those arrested during the tense scenes.

Tory stressed that he has “no involvement in the decisions” on the ground made by police and security, but added that a media pool system has been put in place, allowing some accredited journalists access to the sites.