Toronto’s new ombudsman is beginning his tenure by launching a probe into the $2-million city effort this summer to clear homeless encampments from several parks. However, he will not investigate the actions of police, who do not fall under his mandate.
Kwame Addo announced Tuesday that his office is taking a closer look at the actions of city staff, particularly in how the controversial clearings were planned and communicated.
“We have received complaints that raised concerns about the city’s approach to the encampment evictions,” Mr. Addo, who assumed the post late last month, said in a statement. “I have formally notified the city manager of the launch of our investigation.”
His decision to launch the probe comes only days before a meeting at which city council will vote on whether to seek support for a judicial inquiry into the clearings. The motion, by councillors Josh Matlow and Mike Layton, calls the use of force during these events “unprecedented and unacceptable.”
The continuing presence of homeless people’s tents in parks became a political flashpoint this summer. Some of those living in parks, and those advocating on their behalf, said the city shelter system had been made more unsafe because of the pandemic. The city argued it had made every effort to find suitable accommodations for those experiencing homelessness.
The city eventually issued trespass notices to the encampments and police acted to enforce them. Scores of police officers were deployed, alongside private security staff who fenced off large sections of green space in the parks. There were a number of arrests and the actions of police during the clearings sparked controversy.
Some observers argued police seemed to be acting with less leniency than toward anti-mask protesters, a comparison Mayor John Tory has called “unfair.” And critics said the clearings hadn’t ended encampments, which continue to exist in multiple parks.
The price tag for clearing three parks amounted to about $2-million, the city revealed earlier this month. A bit more than 40 per cent of that was for staffing costs and a slightly smaller figure was dedicated to restoring green space. About $357,000 was spent on fencing.
After Mr. Addo’s probe was announced, Mr. Matlow suggested having two investigations would be complementary.
“In conjunction with the judicial inquiry [Mr. Layton] and I are requesting … the investigation by the ombudsman will help ensure this never happens again,” he wrote on Twitter.
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