Local clinic holding legal information session for Kitchener encampment residents

By Germain Ma

A local legal aid clinic is offering up its services to people living at the Weber and Victoria encampment in Kitchener.

There's a “legal rights information session” set for Thursday morning at the encampment for residents who may be interested in taking on the region in court.

The Region of Waterloo has filed court papers, looking to evict those living at 100 Victoria Street South.

As part of the application, Justice M.J. Valente ordered the region to notify Waterloo Region Community Legal Services.

“We're a community legal aid clinic. We're funded by Legal Aid Ontario and our mandate is to provide services to low-income people in Waterloo Region,” said Shannon Down, executive director for Waterloo Region Community Legal Services.

This week, Jason Paul, an encampment resident was handed a six-page notice of the region's court filings and left to interpret the legal document.

“I'll be passing it around and just kind of giving people a run-down for people that don't want to read it because this is boring stuff,” he said.

“But when you actually read it, it's like 'this is our reality.'”

Waterloo Region Community Legal Services will provide information about court processes to encampment residents and offer representation.

“Their ability to access the court process and participate is extremely important. People living at the encampment are people are generally quite marginalized. It's a fundamental right to be able to participate in this process,” Down said.

But, there are practical challenges.

“Most of them don't have computers or cell phones and they lack some of the tools that you might need to be able to participate,” she said.

“Typically, court processes, the information that we're providing is about what kind of documents need to be filed, what timing is for the next hearing date at the court, how people might file documents or serve documents.”

This week, some representatives of Waterloo Region Community Legal Services visited the encampment and flyers are posted about the legal information session.

“They make their presence known. They try to get some of the group leaders around here to get people informed and together to come talk to them,” said Paul.

Down said encampment residents want to take part in the court process.

“There's a few of the individuals that we've spoken to that are very capable of advocating on their own, but they need help with practical issues… They definitely have some very clear ideas about their thoughts on the eviction and what they would like to see happen.”

Down is critical of the region's action in addressing homelessness and believes eviction isn't a solution with other encampments popping up locally.

“The region has been working to develop their encampment policy, which really says eviction should be a last resort. I think that policy's a good thing. It's just whether the true spirit and intention of that policy has been followed,” she said.

Waterloo Region Community Legal Services wants to help those living at the Weber and Victoria encampment recognize their right to participate.

“I think it's really important for their voices to be heard in this process,” Down said.

“They have stories to be told. Their situations are important to pay attention to.” 

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