A judge has granted an interim injunction barring those living in Belle Park from having fires, while lawyers representing the City of Kingston and encampment residents prepare to argue this fall whether they can be evicted.
Representatives of both sides made a brief court appearance Monday to set a date to debate the bigger issue — whether the city will be granted a court order to clear the tents and makeshift shelters from the park.
That’s set to take place Oct. 30 and 31.
William McDowell, one of the lawyers representing the city, said he wanted to move forward as quickly as possible to ensure that if the eviction is allowed, it won’t happen during “the coldest part of the year.”
“It’s an urgent problem as far as the city’s concerned,” McDowell told the court.
Fourteen people living at the encampment are being represented by the Kingston Community Legal Clinic (KCLC).
Clinic lawyer John Done said his team intends to raise a constitutional question, asking wether enforcing the city’s rights with regard to the park interferes with the life, liberty and security of the people staying there.
He also suggested removing the encampment could clash with people’s equality rights as some of those living there have special needs including disabilities and addictions issues.
KCLC intends to call expert witnesses, along with some of the encampment residents themselves, Done said.
“It’s complex litigation,” he added, asking for a court date in early December.
Rally held before court
McDowell responded that the “worst thing” for everyone involved in the case would be to let it drag on.
Justice Robyn Ryan Bell agreed, settling on the dates at the end of October.
The courtroom was crowded with encampment advocates, many of whom made up a group of around 40 people who held banners and posters calling for affordable housing during a rally ahead of the hearing.
Dawn Clarke, one of the speakers, called the attempt at an eviction “cynical or ignorant,” explaining she’s built friendships with about a dozen people living in the park and that removing the tents would break up a community and push people away from support.
A retired reverend with the United Church, Clarke compared the court matter to the biblical story of David and Goliath.
“The people in Belle Park have nothing. They’ve got no resources. To have city resources, to have my taxes spent doing this to the folks at Belle Park is disappointing,” she said. “Reprehensible.”
City officials have been trying to clear the encampment since January.
They maintain most of the people living there left after trespass notices went up in March and that there is enough shelter space available for those who remain, though some have turned down offers of assistance.
The city has also stressed that there have been “serious incidents” at the encampment, which have created health and safety concerns for the people living there and in surrounding areas.
‘Is this the best way to deal with this?’
The rally outside the courthouse was organized by a group called Mutual Aid Katarokwi Kingston (MAKK).
Member Sayyida Jaffer said the city only offers about half of the shelter spaces necessary for everyone who’s unhoused and those beds don’t meet people’s needs — especially for those who use substances.
She pointed to a recent spike in drug poisoning incidents, saying MAKK is aware of a man living deeper in the woods at Belle Park who died of an overdoes recently.
“Why are we spending that money to force people out of a park when we could be spending that money to better meet their needs and services that actually can help them?” Jaffer said of the city’s decision to seek a court order.
Outside the courtroom, Done told reporters he believes there are “no winners” at court, instead urging officials to engage in “serious negotiation” with encampment residents and their representatives to find a different solution.
“The city has to consider, is this the best way to deal with this?” he said.
The questions of whether fires will be permitted again when the weather cools, and if the city can come to the encampment to clean up abandoned structures will be discussed when the matter returns to court on Aug. 23.