Ontario court rules Waterloo Region can’t evict homeless encampment due to lack of shelter space
Posted January 28, 2023 10:17 am.
Last Updated January 28, 2023 2:21 pm.
An Ontario Superior court judge has ruled that Waterloo Region does not have the right to evict people from a homeless encampment in a decision that could have major implications for other municipalities.
The Region sought court intervention and filed an injunction application last year to allow police to clear the site at the corner of Victoria and Weber streets in Kitchener, which the region planned to use as a temporary parking lot and future staging site for upcoming construction of a nearby Metrolinx transit hub.
In a 51 page decision, Justice Michael J. Valente ruled Friday the region’s bylaw to be “inoperative” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to life, security and liberty of the person, and would remain so until the region provides “accessible shelter beds.”
The court heard that since December 2021, a small number of people had begun erecting tents on the vacant lot and at least 53 people were living there as of July 2022.
Lawyers for the region argued the shelters that had been erected on the property by homeless individuals were in breach of the bylaw which prohibits any type of structure, including a tent, on municipally owned property.
A lawyer for at least 16 individuals who live at the property argued the bylaw infringes their Charter rights “in a manner that is not demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
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In his ruling Justice Valente noted the “tremendous and praiseworthy efforts” to address the homeless situation but said the Region did not use all reasonable outreach and support efforts to connect with the encampment residents as stipulated in its Encampment Policy.
“I decline to declare that the homeless individuals living in the Encampment on the Property are in breach of the By-Law,” he said. “I also declare that the By-Law is inoperative insofar as it applies to prevent the Encampment residents from living and erecting temporary shelters on the Property when the number of homeless individuals in the Region exceed the number of accessible shelter beds.”
Valente said the Region could apply to have his decision terminated once it can show the court that the bylaw no longer violates the Charter rights of the encampment residents.
The Region of Waterloo says it is considering the impact of the decision and its next steps.
“Our commitment to supporting those experiencing homelessness continues, as we work to implement innovative and person-centred solutions, including our Interim Housing Solutions and the development of a Plan to End Chronic Homelessness,” wrote Regional Chair Karen Redman in a statement.
Files from CityNews Kitchener were used in this report