In a courtroom in Kingston, Ontario, clashing arguments painted an encampment on city property as both a danger to patrolling police and the only safe haven for homeless people who use fentanyl.
The eviction hearing that began Monday will determine if the city can evict dozens of people living in tents and makeshift shelters at Belle Park. The City of Kingston’s legal team, led by attorney William McDowell, presented 13 points outlining the “unique dangers” posed by the camp. McDowell argued that the claims of discrimination and a right to be near the city’s only supervised injection site, made under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, were instead “preferences” and “assertions of property rights.”
“The order encampment residents are seeking effectively makes the city a landlord for this property where … dangerous drug trafficking is going on,” McDowell said.
Legal representatives for the encampment were only able to present their side of the story before the end of the day. They argued that the city cannot blame lawlessness on the encampment and that there are not enough shelter spaces available. The court heard that approximately 35 people currently live at the site, representing just a fraction of the roughly 480 people on the “By-Name List,” a registry of those who are homeless or precariously housed.
John Done, representing 14 encampment residents, pointed out that the encampment is located next to the Integrated Care Hub (ICH), which offers shelter spaces, a supervised injection site, and staff trained to respond to overdoses. Other shelters in the city don’t allow drug use and don’t have the necessary expertise. “For someone who is using fentanyl, it’s just not safe to stay anywhere else,” Done said.
Outside the courtroom, supporters of the encampment residents held a rally to voice their opposition to the city’s court case. “People are staying by the Integrated Care Hub because they’re accessing lifesaving care and a place where they feel welcome,” says Sayyida Jaffer, the lead of Justice and Poverty Reduction for the Providence Centre for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.
McDowell spent much of the morning focusing on safety concerns, citing incidents of vandalism, violence, and drug use around the site. He referenced evidence that firefighters responding to calls at the encampment wear stab-proof vests. Police face similar hostility and only visit the site if called.
Justice Ian Carter reminded the legal teams that his role is to address specific legal questions around the constitutionality of the city’s bylaw, not to weigh the pros and cons of encampments. The trial is set to continue Tuesday, with representatives of the encampment residents expected to speak for themselves.