More than two dozen people were arrested Wednesday after violent clashes erupted between police and protesters when city crews dismantled an encampment in the west end.
Toronto police officers and city crews attended the homeless encampment at Lamport Stadium, located near King and Dufferin streets, Wednesday morning to enforce trespass notices that were issued on June 12.
They were met by crowds of protesters that were linking arms around structures at the encampment in support of homeless individuals living there.
Throughout the morning, city crews put up fences in the parkette to block off the area for clean-up and protesters were warned that they had to leave the area.
However, at around 1:20 p.m., clashes between protesters and officers ensued after police were told by the city to enforce the trespass notices.
It appears one officer was sprayed with an unknown substance and a security guard could be seen dousing his eyes with water.
Several people were arrested for refusing to leave the area. CP24 cameras captured police handcuffing several people and shoving a number of others out of the encampment area.
No serious injuries were reported.
"We've got one police officer that was hurt with minor injuries, something was sprayed at them through the fence by someone on the outside of the fence. Also, one of the security guards, I think with the city, (suffered) minor injuries," Toronto police Staff Supt. Randy Carter told reporters at the scene.
"We have more than 22 people that we've arrested. Some of those are criminal charges, some of them resulted in provincial charges, and some of them will be out on conditional releases."
Carter said he is not sure if any of the people who were arrested were also injured during the incident.
In a news release issued Wednesday evening, police allege that objects were thrown and an unknown substance was sprayed at them during the incident. They said an officer was also spat on.
Three officers suffered injuries, police said.
A total of 26 people were arrested, and seven of them, including one of the encampment occupants, are facing several criminal charges that include assault with a weapon, assaulting a peace officer, and obstructing police.
Police said the other 19 protesters arrested were charged under the Trespass to Property Act.
Most of those arrested will be released, police said.
Dozens of people later gathered outside 14 Division to demand the release of the protesters arrested. Police said the demonstration began peacefully but allegedly turned hostile.
They allege that demonstrators threw projectiles, including soup cans and frozen bottles, at them, injuring one officer.
Police said that prompted them to deploy several tactics, including the deployment of pepper spray.
Three people were arrested at that incident. No word if charges will be laid.
Police said they were asked by city crews to attend the area and to stand by to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
"The police that are on scene here, and any other resources that we might need to effectively and safely move people with as minimal force and with every effort to deescalate first, will take place through the course of the day but we take our lead from the city," Carter told CP24 earlier in the day.
The city said there are more than 30 structures, and 11 encampment occupants were at the park this morning.
Of those, two people accepted a referral to a shelter or hotel program, three people left of their own accord, and one person declined the offer, the city said, adding that the other five people already had a space in the shelter system.
In addition to the more than two dozen structures at the encampment, the city said knives, an axe, a hatchet, propane tanks and car batteries were also removed.
The city also defended its decision to ask the police to enforce the trespass notice, resulting in a clash between officers and protesters.
“Enforcing the trespass notice at Lamport Stadium park today was a city decision,” the city said in a news release issued Wednesday evening.
“Protesters inside the fenced area were cautioned multiple times throughout the day that they needed to leave the area or would face possible arrest. As protesters remained in the area and refused to leave, the city requested TPS assistance in clearing the fenced area of the park."
The city said encampment residents were be asked to pack up their bags and go to a city-run shelter where they’d receive access to food, showers, laundry and housing and mental health supports.
“We just can't have the encampments continue to be where they are indefinitely because they're unsafe, they're unhealthy, and they're illegal,” Mayor John Tory told CP24 Wednesday morning.
This year alone, the city said first responders have attended 283 calls for service at Lamport Stadium.
Encampments contravene several chapters of the municipal code and pose serious health outcomes for individuals, including the possibility of contracting COVID-19, according to the city.
The removal of the encampment comes a day after the city cleared out an encampment at Alexandra Park, where nine people were arrested, mostly for trespassing. The city said crews removed 68 structures and 19.5 tonnes of debris from that encampment.
Last month, the city came under fire for its enormous use of police officers and private security guards to dismantle an encampment at Trinity Bellwoods Park.
An encampment resident at Lamport Stadium who identified himself as Joey said he has been living there for six months and that the city should let the homeless individuals stay there.
“They’re just bothering people, why don’t they leave us alone? We’re homeless, there’s nowhere else to go,” he told CP24.
The encampment residents at Lamport Stadium were given time to pack two bags of belongings to take with them. The city said all other belongings will be collected and stored for up to 30 days for future pickup.
City spokesperson Brad Ross said individuals who are experiencing homelessness are encouraged to seek the city's help to find temporary and permanent housing.
"We hope though that the advocates, for example, would work with us to enable people to come inside where they can get those supports so that they don't need to live on the street and live in encampments that are unsafe and unhealthy," he told CP24.
Since July 2020, the city said it has engaged more than 20,000 times with people living outdoors and asked them to seek shelter at city-run facilities.
“I'm sorry that there isn't a better way to deal with this but we try with all these visits we make and with all the efforts we make and with all the different kinds of indoor housing and we take people on tours of the indoor housing we're offering,” Tory said.
However, Doug Johnson Hatlem from Sanctuary Toronto said several homeless individuals have tried to secure shelter through the city and are unsuccessful.
“There are on average more than 100 calls at night to central intake where people are told ‘no we don’t have space’ and so it’s just not true when the mayor says there’s space for everybody,” he told CP24.
Hatlem also noted that homeless individuals are hesitant to enter city-run shelters due to risks of violence, abuse and contracting COVID-19.
“There have been awful things that happen to women inside those spaces with city workers coming in at all hours of the day, even when they’re naked to watch them. There’s been deaths, overdoses,” he said.
According to the city, there have been no active COVID-19 outbreaks in the shelter system since June 8.
As of July 16, 61 per cent of people staying in the city’s shelter system that week had received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 41 per cent of people received a second dose.
The risk of fires is also a concern at encampments. The city said there have been 130 fire incidents at encampments across the city so far this year.
Last year, Toronto fire crews responded to 253 fires at encampments, a 247 per cent increase compared to 2019. Since 2010, seven people have died due to encampment fires.
Since April 2020, more than 1,770 people staying at encampments have been referred to city-run shelters.