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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Police violence marks new low in Toronto's war on people experiencing homelessness

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

Police attack a line of encampment defenders in Lamport Stadium Park, July 21 -- video still image via Twitter

In yet another example of the violence that the city and its political class are willing to unleash on people living in poverty and experiencing homelessness, Toronto police attacked and brutalized dozens in Lamport Stadium Park on July 21 as they cleared an encampment there. This comes just a day after police raided an encampment in the city's Alexandra Park arresting nine.

After arresting 26 people at Lamport the police proceeded to pepper spray protestors who came to 14 Division calling for their release.

The aggression and brutality of the Toronto police was on full display all day in videos and photographs of the events.

Unbelievably, in a classic propaganda inversion of reality, Toronto Police Staff Supt. Randy Carter told the media that ""We did a tremendous job today to try to really, really help those that are most vulnerable. We do our best to get to place where nobody gets hurt and where we don't' have to be physically fighting with people but you were all witness to how we had to get to that place today."

This was obviously not the case.

Trying to justify the brutality and place the blame for the violence on those living in the encampments and those defending them Toronto Mayor John Tory said:

[We're] trying to help the people experiencing homelessness by putting them in a place where they can get more supports, and also establish the principle that public parks are not places people can legally, safely or in a healthy way live and that everybody is entitled to the use of those parks.

But as Azeezah Kanji and AJ Withers wrote in Al Jazeera of the attacks by police on the encampment and its defenders in Trinity Bellwoods Park in June:

The city justifies encampment evictions by inflating the availability and safety of shelter space. In reality, Toronto’s shelter system cannot accommodate everyone sleeping outside; every 13 minutes, someone is turned away. People placed in the city’s shelter “hotels” report being put in rodent-infested rooms, being walked in on for “wellness checks” while naked, and expelled without adequate clothing into the winter night. One disabled resident said she was left abandoned on the 15th floor during a fire.
The city’s propensity for spinning violation as virtue was on display during the massive police operation at Trinity Bellwoods Park, described by Toronto Mayor John Tory as “mostly peaceful,” “reasonable,” and “compassionate”. Yet journalists were blocked and arrested for covering it.

They also note that:

While anti-maskers imperilling public health have been handled by police with kid gloves, encampment residents are crushed with an iron fist. The disparity is not an anomaly, but a manifestation of the police power’s original function: “the consolidation of a new order founded on private property,” as political theorist Mark Neocleous writes. Thus, the historically entrenched “tendency to punish property offences more severely than offences involving violence against the person”.

For a generation Toronto's politicians of all stripes have spectacularly failed to tackle the city's affordable housing crisis or even create an adequate number of safe shelter spaces and yet they continue to unleash extreme violence to evict those who seek refuge in public spaces. Instead of taking any serious action to alleviate the constant peril that hundreds of thousands face due to Toronto being among the five least affordable housing markets in the world, the city targets people building tiny shelters and uses state power not to house people but rather to terrorize and brutalize them during a pandemic.

It is a grotesque travesty that hits ever new moral and humanitarian lows with each vicious police offensive and the utter political indifference to the fact that while Toronto is a developer's paradise, for many trying to find or stay in a place to live it is a dystopian nightmare.



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