February 22, 2023
In the fall of 2021, five houseless individuals brought the City of Hamilton to Court over its ongoing practice of encampment evictions. The argument is a simple one: preventing houseless residents from erecting tents for shelter and protection where there are insufficient, accessible alternatives, violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Court accepted this argument in a recent decision out of the Region of Waterloo. We believe it is inevitable a court will rule the same way in Hamilton.
We provide the following update for our supporters and community stakeholders on what’s happening in Hamilton’s encampment litigation.
In June 2022, new Applicants were added to the lawsuit and a new Notice of Application was provided to the City. There are now 19 Applicants, all but two of whom remain unhoused.
We recognize that this litigation comes amidst an ongoing affordable housing crisis, where there simply are not enough affordable and permanent housing options. Hamilton also suffers from a chronic lack of emergency shelter beds. Of the beds that are available, many are not accessible or viable options for the people who need them most.
We have asked the Court to find that, in the absence of suitable alternatives, encampment evictions violate Charter rights, namely the right to life, liberty and security, and the right to equality without discrimination. The remedies we seek set parameters around the size and location of encampments in order to balance the interests of the housed and unhoused community. Specifically, we have requested that tents be allowed:
We provided the City of Hamilton with our evidence last year, including experts such as academics specializing in homelessness, the former UN Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, and physicians. We have also provided the City with evidence from front-line workers who have witnessed evictions and the lack of shelter spaces available in Hamilton.
At this time, we are waiting for the City of Hamilton to provide its own evidence, and to determine whether it intends to bring motions to exclude some of our expert evidence of front-line workers.
We are also participating in Case Management this week, where a judge will provide direction on the next steps for the case. We expect that after Case Management, we will be able to provide a further update about the schedule for the next steps in the lawsuit and whether the City will oppose our evidence. We also hope to be able to provide an update soon about whether the City intends to enter into settlement discussions and mediation. We remain hopeful that the City of Hamilton, with a new City Council, will be willing to resolve this lawsuit without continued litigation. Until that happens, we will continue to move the lawsuit forward.
February 1, 2023
Last Friday, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice released its long-awaited decision on the Region of Waterloo’s Application to remove individuals from a homeless encampment. The Court held that the Region could not remove people from the encampment without violating their right to “life, liberty and security of the person” guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Superior Court made the following factual findings:
We have repeatedly raised the very same issues with the City of Hamilton and continue to do so in the Charter Application currently before the Superior Court about encampments in Hamilton. We are confident that when our case is heard, the Superior Court’s judgment in the Region of Waterloo case will be followed for Hamilton.
Until the City can provide encampment residents with immediate, permanent and supportive housing, any kind of encampment eviction violates the Charter. In addition to violating the rights to life, liberty and security of the person, encampment evictions discriminate against unhoused Indigenous and racialized individuals, women, people with disabilities, the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and families. Until the City invests in and delivers permanent, affordable housing and related supports, the Charter requires the City to permit people to use tents and other survival materials.
Instead of complying with the Charter and taking meaningful and concrete steps to respond to these longstanding concerns, the City continues to rely on By-law enforcement and eviction, and on pouring resources into fruitless litigation that could be spent on affordable housing.
Indeed, the City has just recommended hiring two additional Municipal Law Enforcement Officers, at an annual cost of $277,000.00, and two Hamilton Police Services officers at an annual cost of $268,646.00 (see agenda item 10.4). Policing continues to be a violent and inappropriate solution to the lack of affordable housing. We oppose it unequivocally.
The City’s own Report arising from consultation sessions states “encampment evictions have profoundly negative impact on people’s physical and mental well-being.” The Superior Court reached the same conclusion. It remains to be seen whether Council will finally acknowledge these profound harms, move away from By-law enforcement, and focus on the creation of affordable housing.
The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, Hāki Chambers Global, Ross & McBride, and the Community Legal Clinic of York Region, continue to challenge the City’s discriminatory approach to encampments and unhoused residents in Court, until such time as Council takes steps to remedy the harm the City has caused to houseless residents.
For media inquiries please contact:
Sujit Choudhry: (416) 436-3679, (917) 683-1380
Sharon Crowe: (437) 218-2364
Ashley Wilson: (905) 572-5833
The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic and the Queer Justice Project are extremely saddened and deeply concerned by the news of the death of a Queer community member at Redeemer University.
Please find our full statement linked here: Statement-Letter
CW: The contents of the statement may be triggering, as they address suicide. Exercise care while reading and engaging.
Press ReleaseFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 28, 2022
Earlier this year, Constable Brian Wren was charged with assault. Police service said it received a video from a business and a citizen after police arrested a suspect in a stolen vehicle investigation. Police said the officer’s use of force led to a criminal investigation.
Const. Brian Wren was immediately suspended and now also faces an assault charge. His first court appearance was July 21.
The individual assaulted and harmed is a member of the City of Hamilton Indigenous community. Members of the Indigenous community are very concerned that this appears not to be an isolated incident. This is the second time this has happened to this individual. The Hamilton Regional Indian Friendship Centre has justice related programs and reports that these types of allegations of aggressive police behaviours are frequent. This particular assault needs to be taken seriously, and major changes need to be made to not only protect our Indigenous relatives but also help protect our relatives of colour, members of various other ethnic backgrounds and members of other marginalized groups.
A full press release will take place on Tuesday August 2, 2022 at 1230pm in front of Hamilton Police Services downtown central location at 155 King William Street, Hamilton Ontario with members of Indigenous leadership, Indigenous community members and our friends and allies.
The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic continues to advocate to protect the constitutional rights of Hamilton’s unhoused population in the courts against the City of Hamilton’s by-laws related to encampments.
Last week, Hamilton City Council approved a motion directing Hamilton’s parks by-law be enforced to remove encampments within 24 to 48 hours. City Council approved a second motion to allocate roughly $417,000.00 to hire 4 additional Municipal by-law officers to enforce the encampment by-law 24/7.
This hardline approach comes only a few months after City Council passed a motion proposed by Councillor Nrinder Nann to convene a roundtable committee with a focus on “human-rights based, health-focused” approach to housing which recognized that an “enforcement led response” wouldn’t solve homelessness or lead to healing community relationships. The roundtable has never been convened.
Enforcing the parks by-law does not respond to the needs of Hamilton’s unhoused population, because it does not create shelter or housing – a view shared by health professionals, shelter workers, and other providing services to the unhoused. The City has taken the position that when someone is living on the street and unable to obtain shelter, that they will strip them of their essentials for human survival, such as their tent, blankets, clothing, sentimental items and more, leaving them empty-handed with nothing but their clothing on their backs and nowhere to go.
Homelessness in Hamilton is growing worse. A growing housing crisis has pushed precariously housed tenants out of their homes. COVID-19 has brought unique challenges for many communities in Hamilton, including job loss or income reduction, and an increased cost of living.
Last fall, the HCLC filed commenced legal proceedings arguing that City’s ongoing efforts to dismantle encampments violate the Charter. Our case will be heard sometime in early 2023.
We are also excited to announce that we have two new co-counsel joining our legal team: Wade Poziomka (@WPoziomka) from Ross & McBride (@rossmcbridellp), and Sujit Choudhry (@sujit_choudhry) from Choudhry Law. Wade is a well-known and respected local human rights and employment lawyer and was previously involved with the 2020 encampment litigation. Sujit has a broad public law practice on questions of constitutional law, administrative law, public international law and international human rights law.
We must all work together to address the housing crisis and ending homelessness. We encourage the City to take a human-rights and housing-first approach to supporting the diverse needs of its unhoused population. Greater enforcement without increased resources and support for the unhoused population will only further stigmatize, criminalize and traumatize those living in our community’s greenspaces.
A copy of our statement has been attached here: HCLC Encampment Litigation
Despite human rights being protected by federal, provincial and territorial laws, racist and discriminatory stereotypes about people of African Descent permeate contemporary society and disproportionally impact the social, economic, educational, and health outcomes of Black men, women and children. Whether they are descendants of those who were enslaved or recent immigrants, people of African Descent are united by a shared, lived experience with anti-Black racism. It is within this tension that the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic launched Together We Rise!
The Together We Rise advisory committee is made up of a maximum of 12 Black community members. The advisory committee actively participates in directing and creating events, facilitates long term visioning and meets regularly. The advisory committee works with the Black Justice Coordinator to realize a more just and equitable environment for Black Hamiltonians. We encourage youth (ages 15-29), self-identified Black elders (age 55 and up) and all Black community members from different walks of life to join this committee.
To read more about Together We Rise: https://hamiltonjustice.ca/en/community-justice/black-justice/
Clare has worked in the non-profit sector for approximately 19 years as an Executive Director. She has extensive experience in leadership, strategy, public relations, advocacy, and management. She has served on many local, provincial, and national boards and committees, and is deeply committed to giving back to her community through her engagement with numerous social justice initiatives.
Since 2015, Clare has served as the CEO of Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice and bereavement services. Additionally, her past roles include Executive Director, Interval House of Hamilton; Counselling Coordinator, Sexual Assault Centre of Brant; and Continuing Education Professor of the Child and Youth Program, Mohawk College. She obtained her Bachelor of Sociology from the University of Western, as well as her Master of Social Work from York University.
Clare is a passionate and rights-based social justice advocate, and embodies the principles and values that the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic stands for. She will brings a wealth of experience from the organizations she has worked for in the past that will be of benefit to the Hamilton community.
We would like to congratulate Clare on her new role and look forward to continuing to fight for access to justice under her leadership.
We also extend our deepest gratitude to Hugh Tye for his exceptional leadership as our Executive Director over the past 26 years.
The Board of Directors
Hamilton Community Legal Clinic
Indigenous people see the impacts of colonization on a daily basis. We are assured to either hear, see or feel these impacts of colonialism, racism and discrimination every single day. Ongoing colonial and systemic policies continue to disproportionately impact the lives of Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island, including within the City of Hamilton.
Canada continues to oppress Indigenous people through the use of harmful colonizing polices.
These policies include the doctrine of discovery, the Indian Act, the 60’s scoop, residential schools, child welfare systems and the colonial legal system.
The Assembly of First Nations notes: “The Doctrine of Discovery emanates from a series of Papal Bulls (formal statements from the Pope) and extensions, originating in the 1400s. Discovery was used as legal and moral justification for colonial dispossession of sovereign Indigenous Nations, including First Nations in what is now Canada. During the European “Age of Discovery”, Christian explorers “claimed” lands for their monarchs who felt they could exploit the land, regardless of the original inhabitants. This was invalidly based on the presumed racial superiority of European Christian peoples and was used to dehumanize, exploit and subjugate Indigenous Peoples and dispossess us of our most basic rights. This was the very foundation of genocide. Such ideology led to practices that continue through modern-day laws and policies.”
The Indian Act was created in 1876. The main goal of the Act was to force the First Nations peoples to lose their culture and become like Euro-Canadians, otherwise referred to as forced assimilation. The Indian Act has been changed many times and it is still an oppressive tool of the Canadian government. It does not affect either the Métis or Inuit.
These tools of the colonial project have led to Indigenous people’s loss of land, language, identity, and way of life.
A clear example of the policies that cause harm is the recent court ruling that enables the local municipal government of Hamilton to forcibly remove homeless people from public spaces. This violent act further displaces encampment residents, destroys any sense of safety and/or security by dismantling the only place they call home and violently disposing of personal belongings. Replicating 500 years of police and government sanctioned colonial violence.
Indigenous people are over-represented in Hamilton’s encampment population.
The Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action have been committed to by the government of Canada to try to rectify some of the wrongs done to Indigenous people. It is a tool we use to remind that there is a necessity to work with Indigenous people and communities to change the way things are done and reduce the harm. Consultation is a way of working with the Indigenous community and consultation did not happen when the decision to remove the encampments, removal that impacts Indigenous people, was made.
Hamilton and Burlington lie within the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territories and fall under the dish with one spoon and the two row wampum treaty agreements. Treaties are binding agreements between two groups and there are responsibilities to all that these agreements include. Have municipal governments forgotten they are treaty partners? Or have they failed to ever acknowledge and put this relationship into practice?
This is an important point that we all need to recognize; each and every person here has a responsibility to educate themselves, support reconciliation and understand our treaty obligations. The education system has proven to have failed Indigenous peoples and been used as a tool of colonialism. We have seen how the education system has failed through the confirmation of unmarked graves at residential schools that has made the news headlines for months and many Canadians just learning about these acts of genocide. We are in charge of our own education and it is no longer acceptable to say “I didn’t know”. Ignorance is not bliss.
We recognize our roles and responsibilities and are speaking out against the mistreatment of our brothers and sisters who have had to make encampments their homes. The Indigenous way of being, our way of life and our roles and responsibilities DO NOT INCLUDE treating other human beings with such disrespect to dismantle their homes and toss their material possessions to the garbage. This is not how we manage our relationships with others. Our way of being includes consultation, compassion, empathy, caring and love.
Removing the encampments without alternatives for those displaced is taking away the spoon. When we take away the spoon, we are feeling privileged enough to interpret the treaty, Dish with one Spoon, in a manner that justifies our behaviours and accommodates only our needs and wants. This was not the intent of the treaty on Indigenous land. No one is privileged to interpret the treaty to benefit only them and this includes elected officials such as mayors and council members as well as policing agents who carry out their mandates.
It is our responsibility to remind Canadians that you are on Indigenous territories and we have agreements that are older than ourselves, older than any colonial law. Through these agreements we have roles and responsibilities to each other and the land. Wearing an Orange Shirt one day and violently dismantling encampments the next is a contradiction, example of a performative stunt with no real intention for true systemic transformative change to ensure we are upholding treaty obligations and working towards reconciliation.
If the City of Hamilton is truly committed to working towards reparation and reconciliation then the removal of the statue of Victoria, your Queen, is essential to ending the oppression that a majority of city council embraces toward Indigenous people. By not having her already removed reminds us that the city is not hearing the voices of Indigenous people and they continue to trigger Indigenous people with the same trauma, plus, associated with the John MacDonald statue. TAKE DOWN YOUR QUEEN. Indigenous people do not need constant reminders of genocide.
We are disheartened that the Court considered the desperate act of sleeping in an encampment as a choice. We are concerned that this decision risks perpetuating the stigmatization of the unhoused population. By the City’s own admission, shelters are full and are unable to meet peoples’ disability related needs. This gap often results in people being denied entry or kicked out. This segment of the population will now be left to sleep outside in harms’ way, without the use of a tent to shield them from the harsh elements. Some will move further off the grid and into hiding, disconnecting from vital supports like medical and street outreach.
While we disagree with the decision, we are encouraged that there has been increased public attention and criticism of Hamilton’s mistreatment of individuals in encampments, particularly in contrast to other innovative and compassionate municipalities that have expanded shelter options and provided food, social workers, mental health crisis worker, potable water and bathroom facilities. Going forward, we hope that the City will adopt similar creative solutions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the community.
This decision is not an endorsement or a license for the City to aggressively and violently evict homeless persons into a cycle of displacement. The City must refrain from the aggressive and heavy handed displacement tactics seen in Toronto. It must ensure that people have an actual indoor space option before being told to move along. It must increase the number of shelter spaces, particularly for women and couples. It must urgently provide low barrier shelter options so that individuals are not repeatedly kicked out. It must prioritize investment in affordable, supportive housing, refrain from enacting policies that contribute to homelessness, and seek funding from other levels of government to actually meet the needs of the unhoused community.
Despite not granting the injunction, the judge confirmed that there is a triable Charter issue. The full Charter challenge remains the next step in this matter, should the City continue to fail to meet the needs of the unhoused population.
The bottom line is that, despite the Court’s decision, there remains a segment of Hamilton’s population, the most vulnerable, who have nowhere else to go. We are hopeful that the City will commit to an ongoing dialogue with community stakeholders and prioritize addressing the housing crisis over the enforcement and displacement of homeless individuals.
We are pleased to present the community HCLC’S 2021 Annual Report. Please see the link below!