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Rights + Justice

Who’s Behind the Plan to Shut Eight Edmonton Tent Camps?

Police claim city support for pre-Christmas sweeps. The mayor says that’s not true.

David Climenhaga 18 Dec 2023The Tyee

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

Edmonton lawyer Avnish Nanda Sunday posted an affidavit in which Edmonton Police Service Staff Sgt. Michael Dreilich swears city representatives agreed with the police department’s plan to roust residents of eight downtown homeless encampments just before Christmas and break up their shelters.

Dreilich swore the affidavit on Friday as part of the City of Edmonton’s response to the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights’ legal effort to get a permanent injunction to stop the plan to spend this week smashing the camps set up by homeless people because even in this season there is no room for them in the inn.

The coalition, represented by Nanda and lawyer Chris Wiebe, succeeded Friday in getting what the judge called an “interim, interim injunction” requiring police to wait until at least noon Monday to begin tearing apart the camps to give time for arguments to halt the sweep.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi indicated in a statement on Instagram late Friday he had only learned of the plan the previous evening after it was emailed to Edmonton social services agencies by Dreilich.

Sohi said in his statement he was “worried about how displaced people may take shelter in other spaces that are not safe or appropriate.”

In his affidavit, Dreilich said he met on Thursday with Mark Beare, the city’s director of infrastructure operations for parks and roads, Travis Kennedy, general supervisor of open space operations, Darren Grove, city park ranger supervisor and Troy Courtoreille, manager of operations.

“The City Representatives agreed” with Drelich’s suggestion the eight encampments should be closed, the affidavit says.

“The City Representatives committed resources to established cleanup crews to support closing the Encampments between December 18 and December 21, leaving December 22 as a buffer day.”

Everyone reading this knows that Dec. 25 is Christmas Day.

The statements by Sohi and Dreilich raise the question of when and how the mayor and council were informed, which is now important since some city politicians appear to be trying to distance themselves from the plan in light of the outrage it has provoked among many members of the public.

It would seem reasonable to ask Edmonton city council and the mayor’s office, if they are really concerned about the danger to unhoused people caused by clearing the encampments during an Edmonton winter and the horrible optics of pushing them into the streets just before Christmas, why they won’t agree to instruct the city’s lawyers not to oppose the injunction request.

Nanda’s reference to Dreilich’s sworn statement about the agreement of city officials with the mass clearances is part of a longer tweet thread in which he outlines his argument that the city’s own rules do not allow the Edmonton Police Service to unilaterally clear encampments.

“When City says it has no knowledge or involvement in what’s happening, then (1) clearances are occurring in violation of its own policy, which would be unlawful in my view, or (2) it is not being straight up on what is happening,” he wrote.

Given Dreilich’s sworn statement, he continued, it raises the question of who is being accurate, the city or the police?

“The clearances here required City knowledge and approval, and in fact, received them,” he concluded his thread. “Why is City Council saying the opposite, contradicting the evidence filed in court?”

In a statement also published on Instagram NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley and Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Janis Irwin called on Alberta Attorney General Mickey Amery “to immediately put a stop to the plans to evict unhoused Edmontonians from their encampments.”

“The UCP government must be able to guarantee a safe place for every person impacted before police take action,” they said. “We must stop criminalizing poverty as a province and a community. We can’t enforce our way out of the housing crisis.”

On its website, the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights says: “Despite being aware of the inadequate number of safe and accessible shelter spaces available to a rapidly increasing unhoused population, the City of Edmonton continues to displace and destroy encampments with nowhere for people to go. These actions have resulted in vulnerable people repeatedly being placed in dangerous situations without the most basic of personal belongings or survival necessities, violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and undermining their fundamental human rights.”

There are known to be more than 3,000 homeless people living on the streets of Edmonton and only 1,126 shelter spaces.  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice, Alberta

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