TORONTO — A single father facing eviction from his Toronto home says dozens of police officers stormed into his apartment on Good Friday, a day before the Ontario government enacted a province-wide shutdown.
Hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, Alex, the father of a one-year-old baby and six-year-old child, said he has been having trouble paying rent on time for his apartment unit at 33 Gabian Way in Toronto for a few months now due to the pandemic.
The father told CTV News Toronto on Tuesday that he made a verbal agreement with his landlord to have the arrears ready to be paid by March 29, but when he managed to collect the amount plus an extra two months of rent by the due date, the Sheriff’s Office knocked, without warning, on his door to evict him.
Alex was forced out of the home with his two children.
On Good Friday, he was allowed to return to gather his possessions, but instead of doing so, along with community members, he pleaded with his landlord to honour their payment arrangement and stop the eviction – that’s when police showed up.
“I had to take a stand to defend my children,” said Alex, who wanted to go by his first name alone due to safety concerns for his children. “Matters between tenants and their landlords are civil matters. Any police force should not get involved in matters that are not criminal.”
“There’s no justification to sending 26 cruisers to evict a single peaceful man, and his two children. That is inhumane.”
A video of the incident, shared widely on social media, shows more than 20 police cruisers parked outside the apartment building managed by social housing provider, Project Esperance, in Toronto’s west end.
Sam Nithiananthan with the People’s Defence Toronto, an advocacy group fighting for tenants’ rights, told CTV News Toronto that community members banded together that day to pressure the landlord to accept the father’s payments.
The video shows officers forcing themselves through the locked door of Alex’s home. The officers can be seen asking community members to clear the area, and Nithiananthan said police shoved him and others to get out of the way.
The video shows packed boxes and bags inside the unit. The father can be heard identifying himself to police officers, his voice heavy with emotion, as an officer demands to speak to him alone, forcing his friend to leave.
The friend and others can be heard pleading with the police, saying the tenant has the money to pay his rent, and begging the officers to understand the tenant and his small children have nowhere else to go during the pandemic.
“There was tremendous amount of fear. There was a tremendous amount of stress, the anxiety levels are far beyond anything I could ever imagine feeling,” Alex said on Tuesday. “But the biggest and most impactful, sort of emotion you go through this feeling like you’ve let your children down.”
A spokesperson with the Toronto Police Service told CTV News Toronto in a statement that officers were only at the scene to help remove a large group of protesters.
“Officers attended for the purpose of keeping the peace. The TPS does not enforce evictions; this is the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office,” the spokesperson said on Tuesday.
“The crowd refused and more officers were called to assist. The tenant and most of the protestors eventually complied, and left of their own free will.”
Another video, however, of the incident posted onto social media shows a police officer saying the opposite of what the force said in their statement on Tuesday.
“We have a court order, from either a judge or a JP [Justice of the Peace], enforcing the eviction,” the officer can be heard saying to protesters. “The sheriff was already here.”
When asked again if police are enforcing the eviction, the officer repeats that he is “enforcing a court order.”
Nithiananthan said Alex’s situation is not unique in Toronto, and many others are facing a similar predicament when making payment arrangements with landlords.
The Ontario government’s recent Bill 184 allows landlords and tenants to agree on repayment plans. Tenants, who fail to meet the deadlines of the plan, are subject to eviction without a formal hearing in front of the Landlord and Tenant Board.
Advocates say landlords have been abusing the system by making so-called payment arrangements, and then trapping people by filing evictions on the same day they expect to get the money paid back.
Alex is currently paying less than the market value for his apartment unit after living there for seven years. Nithiananthan said the landlord can increase the rent price once the tenant has moved out as other have done in the city.
“People need to stay in their home. I don’t think this situation is some sort of special case. It’s the norm,” Nithiananthan said. “This is the story of the city. Landlords know that if they push people out; they can double the rent, they can increase it significantly.”
On Good Friday, the community members and neighbours managed to pressure the landlord and police to allow Alex to remain in his home until a formal meeting could be held to discuss the issue on Tuesday.
Alex spoke to CTV News Toronto shortly after the meeting, saying that after the community pressure and after his local NDP MPP Faisal Hassan stepped in, the landlord signed a new lease with him.
“I was disturbed to learn that 23 Toronto Police cruisers showed up at 33 Gabian Way where an attempted eviction of a single father and his two young children was underway Friday,” Hassan said in a statement on Tuesday.
“I spoke to the tenant over the weekend and learned that he had fallen behind on the rent, as many tenants have, due to financial challenges because of the ongoing pandemic. He is now able to fully pay his rent.”
“No one should be kicked out of their home in the middle of a pandemic. The NDP has been calling on the Ford government to ban evictions clearly and completely during COVID-19.”
CTV News Toronto contacted Project Esperance, the building’s management company, which confirmed a new lease has been signed, but did not provide further comment.
“There’s a lot of wrong going on and we need to stand up and stand up for ourselves and for others,” Alex said. “It should have never gotten to the point where it got. It’s unfathomable that they allowed us to get to that point.”
“Things need to be done differently. They need to treat people with a little more dignity and respect. I’m going to have to lay down on my pillow knowing firsthand that other families, other children, will be facing the same thing wrongfully.”
CTV News Toronto has reached out to the Ontario government on the issue of evictions Wednesday afternoon, but has not yet received a response.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said during a news conference on Wednesday that residential evictions would be suspended temporarily due to the recent stay-at-home order, which will take affect on Thursday.
“During a stay-at-home order, residential evictions will once again be suspended because no one should live in fear of losing their home.”
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