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Protesters gather as legal battle over Edmonton homeless encampments returns to court

Advocates for people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton rallied downtown Wednesday as a legal battle over how encampments are being cleared from city streets returned to court. 

About 30 protesters gathered outside police headquarters downtown 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.” 

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

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

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

City and EPS officials have said the camps aren’t safe for residents for several reasons, including violent crime, tent fires, exposure to the cold and communicable diseases.

The legal battle has been unfolding for months but began to escalate in December after front-line agencies learned that the city planned to clear eight camps from the inner city in a single sweep.

The coalition asked the court to halt the removals. Court of King’s Bench Justice Kent Davidson issued an interim injunction that paused the removals by setting conditions for how they could proceed.

The city had planned to clear the eighth and final encampment Tuesday but the camp wasn’t cleared.

Some people living at the camp in the area of 95th Street and 101A Avenue, on the east side of downtown, refused to leave and were surrounded by supporters while police cleaned up garbage around them.

In a news release late Tuesday, the city said plans to close the camp had been “modified.”

A warming bus was provided to occupants while vacant structures and excessive debris were removed to reduce some of the risk, it said.

The residents, and their tents, remained.

A group of people sit around a cluster of snowy tents and tarps.
Police and city workers at an encampment in Edmonton located in the area of 101A Avenue and 95th Street on Tuesday, January 9, 2024. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

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