Nine people arrested as Toronto begins dismantling encampment at Alexandra Park

Toronto police say nine people were detained at Alexandra Park this morning as city staff cleared an encampment at the downtown park.

The City of Toronto confirmed that this morning it began enforcing trespass notices that were issued to those living at the park, located near Dundas and Bathurst streets, on June 12.

“All individuals experiencing homelessness in this encampment… are being offered safe, indoor space, with access to meals, showers and laundry, harm reduction, physical and mental health supports, and a housing worker,” the city said in a news release before the encampment was dismantled.

They added that occupants were given time to pack two bags of belongings and all other items collected will be stored for up to 30 days for future pickup.

The city said 26 people living at the park were removed today, including 11 who accepted indoor accommodation or a referral and 15 who left on their own.

A total of 68 structures have been removed from the park as well as propane tanks and gasoline canisters.

The park was closed today for the operation and the city says police were on scene to “ensure the safety of encampment occupants, city workers, and the public.”

Toronto police later confirmed that nine people are facing charges, including three people who were staying at the encampment. One of those people was arrested on an outstanding warrant while another was arrested for public intoxication. The third was charged with trespass to property.

“Throughout the day, Toronto police officers supported the city and used the least amount of force necessary to make arrests and were measured in their approach. There were no injuries,” police said in a release confirming the charges on Tuesday afternoon. “Any request to remove someone from the area was done as a last resort after city staff had exhausted every other option and multiple cautions were issued and ignored.”

The city came under fire last month for enforcement activities during the dismantling of an encampment at Trinity Bellwoods Park.

On June 22, shelter administration, private security, and police officers, some clad in full riot gear, showed up at the west-end park to remove about 25 people living in tents and other structures.

Protesters also arrived to defend encampment dwellers and three people were later arrested after clashes with police.

Nationally-recognized photojournalist Ian Willms, who was documenting the evictions, was also detained, a move The Canadian Association of Journalists referred to as a “complete overreaction.”

Mayor John Tory has repeatedly defended the city’s enforcement, telling CP24 that the evictions have been peaceful for the most part.

“I stand by what we have done which is a reasonable, firm, but compassionate way of dealing with this where we offer, and we offer, and we offer ways to take people safely indoors to housing, but there does come a time when it comes to camping in parks, which is unsafe and illegal, where you have to take action,” Tory told CP24 after the Trinity Bellwoods encampment eviction.

During today’s operation, once again dozens of police officers could be seen in Alexandra Park, including members of the mounted unit.

Brad Ross, a spokesperson for the City of Toronto, said the role of police was simply to “keep the peace.”

“This is a city-led operation and city staff are working to get people to come inside. The police presence is to ensure that people remain safe and that the peace is kept,” he told CP24 on Tuesday morning.

He added that the encampment has “significantly” impacted the surrounding neighbourhood and noted that a day camp that typically runs at the park each summer had to be cancelled this year as a result.

“We’ve officially closed the park today but for all intents and purposes, the park has not been accessible,” Ross said.

“All parks in the city needs to be accessible and safe for everybody across the city and Alexandra Park is certainly no different.”

Staff Supt. Randy Carter said in total, there were about 100 officers in the area to assist in the eviction.

“We have resources in the background,” he said on Tuesday, adding that many officers were there as a precaution in case things escalated.

“I understand that all of the residents of the encampments have been served notice… This day was not, I don’t think, a surprise to the residents.”

One encampment resident told CP24 that he does not feel safe going to a shelter.

"The shelters are overloaded, the hotels are all overloaded. They are unsafe," he said on Tuesday.

"All of this is not necessary. For the city to have their park back? This is the city’s fault why this is all happening."

Private security stood in front of fencing that was placed around the perimeter of the park during the eviction and when asked why members of the media were not permitted inside to document the encampment eviction, Tory said he had “no part whatsoever” in the operational decisions being made.

“I will say the minute that the situation with the media was brought to my attention by the Toronto Star I asked the staff to have another look at it,” Tory said on Tuesday.

“I do believe that it is important that people should be there from the media to chronicle hopefully, you know, the good and maybe the not so good of how these things are carried out.”

The mayor said for the success of the operation, it was necessary to keep as many people out of the park as possible.

“It's not as if just the media were kept out of the park, everybody was. The park was closed for, again, the protection of the safety of everybody, because there was an operation going on there that remained, as I understand it, very peaceful,” he said.

“In order for everybody else to be kept safe, it is a reasonable proposition that you should confine that area to as few people as possible. That's very similar to what occurs in many other places where there are operations of that kind going on.”