Belle Park encampment eviction case heard by Superior Court of Justice
November 2, 2023
Story by Christena Lawrie , CFRC Broadcast Journalist, for the Local Journalism Initiative.
The city’s bid to evict residents of the encampment at Belle Park and around the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) has returned to the courtroom this week, with proceedings extending over Oct. 30-31.
Beginning at 9 a.m., prior to the continuation of court proceedings, supporters of encampment residents held a rally in front of the courthouse. The rally was organized by the Kingston Encampment Support Network (KESN), an organization which came together throughout the unraveling of this case.
“The Kingston Encampment Support Network has been really disappointed with the City and the way that it has handled the presence of the encampment at Belle Park,” stated Sophia Lachapelle with the KESN.
“The City has just constantly criminalized people who are unhoused, and discriminated against them,” she added.
The court first heard from Will McDowell with Lenczner Slaght LLP, representing the City, who argued the “large encampment with unique dangers” poses “serious risks for occupants and the community.”
Lawyers for the City spoke at length about the situation at the encampment, focusing on safety concerns associated with the site, including fire hazards, vandalism of public property, drug use and sale, and concerns of human trafficking. McDowell also described reported hostility and harassment towards police, as well as paramedics and firefighters, from encampment residents. Due to these safety concerns, it was argued that the encampment is “not a place of safety” for residents, and thus clearing the encampment would not be depriving residents of safety and security.
Kingston Community Legal Clinic (KCLC) responded, addressing the lack of shelter space in the City for residents, the importance of the encampment’s proximity to the Integrated Care Hub (ICH), and barriers to accessing shelters.
The KCLC pointed to the discrepancy between the number of people experiencing homelessness in the city and space available in local shelters. While the City has expanded their shelter capacity recently, the City’s legal team acknowledged this fact, conceding that there are still not enough shelter beds for all those in the City who may need them. The barriers at various shelters which make them less accessible or appealing in comparison to the encampment were also discussed.
Other concerns also include causing residents to be distanced from the ICH and their life-saving resources, which are notably not available at other resource centers or shelters. The ICH includes the only safe consumption site in the city, along with a uniquely prepared team of professionals and services available 24/7.
“A lot of people who are in the encampment need access to the Integrated Care Hub and the harm reduction services that they provide, and none of the City’s shelters, even the new beds that they’ve invested in, really meaningfully address that need,” explained Lachapelle.
Encampment representatives clarified that what they ask of Justice Carter is to deny the City’s request for “permission to evict the encampment”, as stated by the lawyer representing encampment residents with the Kingston Community Legal Clinic.
Proceedings continue through Tuesday, Oct. 31, but a decision will not be made at the bench.