Toronto’s response for encampments ‘outdated,’ ombudsman releases recommendations

Interim report finds clearing encampments can be “traumatizing” to people and gives recommendations on how to do better. Cynthia Mulligan reports.

Toronto’s protocol to respond to encampments in parks throughout the city is “outdated,” and often not consistently followed by staff, the city’s ombudsman said in an interim report on the clearings last year.

Ombudsman Kwame Addo released early recommendations to improve Toronto’s response that he believes the city should “act on immediately.”

The City, along with police officers, cleared out encampments at multiple parks last summer including at Lamport Stadium, Alexandra Park and Trinity Bellwoods Park where they were met with large crowds. At Lamport Stadium and Trinity Bellwoods, violent clashes broke out between police and the supporters of those in the encampments and several people were arrested.

Because of this, an investigation was launched in September of 2021.

“We did so because there was significant public concern and many complaints to our office about the manner in which these encampments were cleared,” read the ombudsman’s report.

It was later revealed the City had spent months planning the encampment clearings, even building resident profiles, and spent nearly $2 million on the actions.

“Clearing encampments is extremely disruptive and in some cases traumatizing to the people living in them,” said Addo in the report.

“The City still has a responsibility to treat all residents fairly, and with dignity and compassion. That responsibility is particularly strong when it comes to vulnerable Torontonians,” read the report.

His interim report found not only is there no detailed plan to guide updating the encampment response, but the City has not defined a mandate for its encampment office, which is tasked with coordinating this response.

“The Office is under-resourced, impairing the City’s ability to take a larger, systemic view of its encampments response,” read his report.

Through over 50 interviews, including 43 people who have lived in encampments or visited them, and reviewing over 11,000 documents, the ombudsmen came up with eight early recommendations.

The report said they heard broad concerns that the City’s treatment of people living in encampments had “eroded the public’s trust in their municipal government.”

“We saw evidence that the City’s actions have hurt its work with community organizations on other important City initiatives,” read the report. “Community groups told us that the clearings have increased the vulnerability, isolation, and trauma of people who have lived in encampments.”

In response to these findings, Ombudsman Toronto has made eight early recommendations it believes the City should implement immediately, including:

  • Developing a detailed plan outlining how and when it will update its protocol and committing adequate resources to ensure the update’s timely completion.
  • Holding consultations with the public, including people with lived experience in encampments, and incorporating their feedback into the protocol’s update.
  • Clearly outlining the Encampment Office’s role and mandate, sharing this information publicly, and ensuring it has enough resources to effectively carry out its duties.


“Encampments are extremely complicated, and there is no one simple solution to them. Unfortunately, given the housing crisis in Toronto, encampments will be with us for the foreseeable future,” read the conclusion.

In a release, the City of Toronto said they accept the recommendations and “remains committed to strengthening its housing first approach to street and encampment outreach and providing wrap-around, client-centred case management supports to people living outdoors, constructively and in a non-confrontational way.”

They added there is currently 121 encampments across the city as of July 13, down from 418 in June of 2021.

Mayor John Tory said he supports the acceptance of the reccomendations. “Those things will be implemented so that we can ensure that there aren’t encampments in public parks as there must not be, but at the same time, we can make sure we provide consistent, caring help for the people who want to move into a safe indoor housing.”

He added they have reflected on how the encampments were cleared last year and have since sucessfully cleared ones out of large parks without the police being involved.

“I will say this there does come a time where the fundamental principle that says that public parks are not proper places for encampments, they’re not safe, they’re not legal, and they’re not healthy, that principle has to be upheld,” Tory added. “So while we will continue to make even more efforts, as following on the recommendations of the ombudsman, to do this better and and in a way that is less disruptive, and that is even more compassionate.”

David Shellnutt, a lawyer representing five civilians who say they were injured by police when the encampments were disbanded and are are suing the city, said there were other solutions to a clearing of the encampment.

“Of course people shouldn’t have to be living in a park, it was the only safe place to do so … we had other solutions, human rights and compassionate-based approach,” said Shellnutt.

Gru, a former encampment resident, said he lived in the Trinity Bellwoods encampment for almost six months. “That community was honestly probably the reason I survived through that winter.”

Shortly before the police moved in, he was placed in a city hotel shelter, but he was in the park that day. “It was traumatizing to see.”

The interim report will be presented at the next city council meeting on July 19. The City said staff will then implement the recommendations and provide an update in the fourth quarter of 2022, as requested in the ombudsman’s report.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today