Tents at a central Edmonton encampment were torn down Wednesday, hours after a legal battle over the city’s practice of clearing the camps returned to court.
On Wednesday afternoon, police officers began dismantling the last of eight encampments the city had deemed too high-risk to remain standing.
Police officers and city workers in white hazmat suits patrolled a cluster of tents in the area that had been encircled with yellow police tape.
City workers in white hazmat suits could be loading tarps and tents into the back of a truck.
Arlen Plashka, from Saddle Lake First Nation, said being forced out his home in the camp was traumatic.
“I feel violated,” he said. “It makes me feel alone, because we weren’t doing anything — and I don’t have to tell anyone, it’s cold out right now.” The temperature in Edmonton on Wednesday afternoon was ��–24 C.
Plashka wasn’t sure where he would sleep Wednesday night. He said he doesn’t feel safe staying in a shelter.
“What’s happening here, it’s a human rights violation,” he said. “No one should have to be able to get their stolen from them and thrown away in the garbage. I am a human being. These are our homes.”
On Wednesday morning, the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights was back in court to argue its case against the way city crews, with support from the Edmonton Police Service, approach the removals.
The Edmonton-based 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 their decision to clear the camps, 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 over Edmonton’s encampments has been unfolding for months but escalated 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 and on Dec. 18 the interim injunction was issued by the court.
As court proceedings began Wednesday, Court of King’s Bench Justice Jonathan Martin extended an interim injunction that places conditions on how and when the camps can be cleared.
The order, now set to expire Tuesday, requires that camp residents be given appropriate notice, and says evictions can only proceed when there is adequate shelter capacity to accommodate camp residents.
The city planned to clear the eighth encampment Tuesday but residents of the camp, in the area of 95th Street and 101A Avenue, resisted.
As police moved in, some people refused to leave. They were surrounded by supporters while officers cleaned garbage and debris from the site.
Officials with the city and Edmonton police did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Wednesday’s removal.
WATCH | Protesters rally outside Edmonton police headquarters Wednesday:
As the legal battle returned to court Wednesday, advocates for people experiencing homelessness rallied downtown.
About 30 protesters gathered outside police headquarters 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.”
Gale said the camp removals are inhumane, discriminatory and only work to further marginalize the city’s most vulnerable.
A string of recent deaths among people experiencing homelessness speaks to the crisis, she said.
People on the street are struggling to survive the harsh elements, often facing addiction and severe mental health issues. But instead of an offer of help, they face evictions from their encampments, Gale said.
“And the police like to villainize them and say they are the problem. No, society is the problem that leaves our most vulnerable on the street with mental health [issues] to fend for themselves.
“We need to do better as a society.”
She said marginalized residents face discrimination and neglect and that camp removals are a form of colonization, forcing Indigenous people from their homes.
“It has to stop. This is our sacred land,” Gale said. “Our brothers and sisters are human beings above all. Above all.”
Bianca Gaggero, who attended Wednesday’s rally and has stood witness last week as one of the encampments was torn down.
“The sweeps, they’re not doing anything,” she said.
“The cops in, they move the tents and the tents move down, a block away. It’s just uprooting people.”
Gaggero said she attended the downtown protest to stand in solidarity with people on the street, and to demand the sweeps end for good.
“I’m here because I’ve had homelessness in my family. And my uncle didn’t have the help he needed and he died on the street.
“More people need to understand that this is not a solution.”
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