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Tents torn down at encampment in central Edmonton as court battle continues

Tents at a central Edmonton encampment were torn down Wednesday, hours after a legal battle over the city’s practice of clearing the camps returned to court.

Lawsuit alleges city's removal policy violates Charter rights

A police officer stands in the snow. There is a cluster of tents and tarps in the background

Tents at a central Edmonton encampment were torn down Wednesday, hours after a legal battle over the city's practice of clearing the camps returned to court.

Police began dismantling the last of eight encampments the city had deemed too high-risk to remain standing.

Officers patrolled a cluster of tents in the area that had been encircled with yellow police tape, while city workers in white hazmat suits loaded tarps and tents into the back of a truck.

Arlen Plashka, from Saddle Lake First Nation, said being forced out of his home in the camp was traumatic.

"I feel violated," he said. "It makes me feel alone, because we weren't doing anything — and I don't have to tell anyone, it's cold out right now." The temperature in Edmonton on Wednesday afternoon was –24 C.

Plashka wasn't sure where he would sleep Wednesday night. He said he doesn't feel safe staying in a shelter.

"What's happening here, it's a human rights violation," he said. "Nobdy should have to be able to get their stuff stolen from them and thrown away in the garbage. I am a human being. These are our homes."

Edmonton police later confirmed one man and two women were arrested Wednesday as officers dismantled a homeless encampment, including a reporter who had been covering the issue.

Encampment removal lawsuit

On Wednesday morning, the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights was back in court to argue its case against the way city crews, with support from the Edmonton Police Service, approach the removals.

The Edmonton-based group is suing the City of Edmonton, alleging that the removals violate the Charter rights of people who rely on the camps for shelter.

Before the lawsuit goes to court, which could take years, the coalition asked for an interim injunction that places conditions on how and when the camps can be cleared.

The injunction, granted Dec. 18, was set to expire Thursday but Court of King's Bench Justice Jonathan Martin extended the interim injunction until next Tuesday because city lawyers, police and coalition members have lengthy arguments to make.

City lawyers began their legal argument by trying to block the coalition from getting standing in court — the legal ability to present arguments in favour of the injunction, and later, in suing the city.

Megan Kyriacou, one of the city lawyers, argued that the coalition isn't qualified to speak for homeless people, as they don't have a formal role in the community and have no record of providing services to the unhoused population.

The city says the law requires that cases involve people with a direct interest in the issues at hand.

Chris Wiebe, a lawyer with the coalition, said the group is qualified to present legal action on behalf of people living in encampments in Edmonton.

"People living in encampments in Edmonton, for various reasons, are unable to bring this legal action on their own. They require a public interest litigant," Wiebe said outside the courthouse. "The coalition is well-suited to be that public interest litigant and we will make that argument."

The city also plans to prevent some experts from testifying and challenge whether certain affidavits provided by the coalition should be admissible as evidence.

The city and police have defended their decision to clear the camps, citing public safety risks to the community at large and the people who live in the encampments.

WATCH | Protesters rally outside Edmonton police headquarters Wednesday:

‘Stop the sweeps’: Edmontonians rally against dismantling encampments

8 hours ago

Duration 1:22

Following several weeks of police action to remove tent cities, advocates, organized by the Bear Claw Beaver Hills House group, gathered outside of EPS headquarters Wednesday to protest the decision.

As the legal battle returned to court Wednesday, advocates for people experiencing homelessness rallied downtown.

About 30 protesters gathered outside police headquarters to demand that Edmonton end its practice of clearing homeless encampments.

The rally was organized by Judith Gale, the founder of Bear Claw Beaver Hills House, an Edmonton-based agency that supports Indigenous community members experiencing homelessness.

Wearing a ribbon skirt under a purple parka, Gale spoke to the crowd from the steps as fellow protesters held signs calling on the city to "Stop the sweeps."

Gale said the camp removals are inhumane, discriminatory and only work to further marginalize the city's most vulnerable.

A string of recent deaths among people experiencing homelessness speaks to the crisis, she said.

People on the street are struggling to survive the harsh elements, often facing addiction and severe mental health issues. But instead of an offer of help, they face evictions from their encampments, Gale said.

"And the police like to villainize them and say they are the problem. No, society is the problem that leaves our most vulnerable on the street with mental health [issues] to fend for themselves.

"We need to do better as a society."

Bianca Gaggero attended Wednesday's rally and stood witness last week as one of the encampments was torn down.

"The sweeps, they're not doing anything," she said.

"The cops move in, they move the tents and the tents move down, a block away. It's just uprooting people."

Gaggero said she attended the downtown protest to stand in solidarity with people on the street, and to demand the sweeps end for good.

"I'm here because I've had homelessness in my family. And my uncle didn't have the help he needed and he died on the street.

"More people need to understand that this is not a solution."

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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