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Letter: Legal clinic urges Timmins council to address needs of people living in encampments

'Please be aware that Ontario law has been clarified and that it has become accepted that such evictions are unlawful under current Ontario law,' writes the group
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The Community Legal Clinic of York Region has sent the following letter to Timmins Mayor Michelle Boileau and councillors. The City of Timmins says that this year one encampment with one person was removed from public property on Airport Road. "They had camped over the sewer access for waste disposal, which is an immediate health and safety concern because of the fumes. He was asked to move," said the city in an email. The city's policies on encampment outreach and response are available online here. The full letter is as follows:

It has come to our attention that the City of Timmins may still be evicting residents from homeless encampments on public property. Please be aware that Ontario law has been clarified and that it has become accepted that such evictions are unlawful under current Ontario law. We strongly urge you to cease and desist. 

This issue was considered recently by Sarnia city council, who voted not to proceed with an encampment eviction based upon a legal opinion which it obtained from the prominent municipal law firm Aird Berlis.  

The opinion sums up the present state of Ontario law as: 

At this time, it is strongly recommended that the City stand down on forcibly removing encampment residents from Rainbow Park. Instead, the City should focus its efforts on outreach and support with appropriate social services agencies, and taking measures to address any perceived risks to public safety. If the City were to proceed unilaterally with encampment enforcement and eviction, it would face significant litigation risk. 

Recently City Councils in Guelph, Cambridge and Barrie have also decided not to proceed with encampment evictions, based on this judicial guidance.

Many hundreds of thousands of tax dollars have been spent by Ontario municipalities in court, including Kingston, Waterloo and Hamilton ($170,000 in Waterloo alone, the other cities won’t disclose their legal costs) - which could have been spent to provide alternative accommodation that encampment dwellers regard as better than tents – such as designated encampment sites (see London) and tiny cabins (see Chatham, Waterloo, Peterborough, etc.). This is the only durable way to reduce increasingly prevalent homeless encampments. 

Given wholly inadequate ODSP and OW shelter allowances paid to Ontario’s disabled citizens and the substantial increase in rents, making it virtually impossible for them to find rental accommodation, homelessness is predicted to continue to increase for the foreseeable future. A practical plan is needed beyond simply evicting homeless citizens from encampments.  

The courts have held that municipalities can not evict encampment dwellers until they have provided adequate “truly accessible” low-barrier alternative accommodation. If such accommodation is offered, in fact, then there is every reason to expect that encampment dwellers will choose it voluntarily – and evictions will not be required. This was the recent experience in Guelph.  

We urge council to focus on providing adequate truly accessible low-barrier accommodation to address the particular needs of encampment dwellers.  

It may also be fiscally prudent to await the outcome of our encampment litigation in  Hamilton before wading into the controversy by attempting evictions and inviting costly litigation to assess their constitutionality. 

We would be pleased to provide any additional information which may assist you in your deliberations or to discuss this further with you or your staff.  


Jeff Schlemmer 
Executive Director

Sharon Crowe 
Director of Legal Services