TORONTO — Violence erupted as authorities moved in to clear a homeless encampment at a Toronto park on Wednesday, with police pushing out a large group of people who had refused to leave the area.
The operation at Lamport Stadium Park came a day after a different encampment was cleared in downtown Toronto. The city has cited the risk of fires and the need to make parks accessible to everyone as factors behind the clearings.
Those living at Lamport Stadium -- between 14 and 17 people, according to city estimates -- were issued trespass notices last month warning they could be removed if they refused to leave and face fines of up to $10,000 if convicted.
On Wednesday, those residents and dozens of their supporters initially refused to leave after authorities put up a fence around the site and ordered them out.
But tensions boiled over in the afternoon when police officers formed a line and began methodically moving through the encampment. Supporters of the encampment residents created a barricade with wooden pallets, chanting "we will not give up the fight," but officers knocked that down as they worked their way through the area.
Multiple scuffles broke out, officers were seen pushing those who did not comply, and several people were placed in handcuffs.
Police said Wednesday night that 26 people were arrested and charged with offences that included assault with a weapon, assaulting a peace officer and trespassing. The force also said three officers were injured.
Joey Mauger was among the encampment residents who didn't want to leave the park.
"Me and my friends, we don't bother anybody," he said from behind the orange fence set up around the encampment earlier in the day. "We like it here, we don’t want to go and we don't know where we’re going to go."
Mauger said he and his partner had been living at the park for six months. He said he was previously put up in a hotel by the city but left because he didn’t feel safe due to random check-ins
"I'm too scared and not sure about anything anymore," he said, adding that he wanted affordable permanent housing.
Sedulea Holland, who said her brother has experienced homelessness, was among those who showed up to support encampment residents.
"Where are they going to go? All the homeless people in the hotels get kicked out and end up on the street," she said. "They need help, not law and order."
The city has said it is offering indoor living accommodation and other supports to those staying at Lamport Stadium and other homeless encampments.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city has been working hard to provide those living in encampments with indoor accommodations.
"The real purpose of this entire exercise...has been to persuade the people that are in unsafe, unhealthy, illegal encampments to come inside to a place where they can be safer, where they can get more supports from us and where they’re going to be not in the public parks any longer," he said.
"That effort will continue going forward."
Toronto police said they were at the park to support city staff in the clearing operations.
"Repeated efforts were made to engage with people and explain to them that a Trespass to Property notice had been served and they were required to leave. These efforts were largely ignored and the crowds became confrontational and hostile," the force said in a statement Wednesday night.
"As a last resort, and in partnership with City staff, officers carried out enforcement, responding proportionately and using minimal force."
Police said no one arrested required hospital treatment for physical injuries.
On Tuesday, nine people were arrested during the eviction of Alexandra Park encampment residents, seven of them for trespassing.
A Canadian Press photographer covering the Alexandra Park clearing was arrested Tuesday by Toronto City Corporate Security and removed from the area.
The city said 11 people from that encampment were referred to other housing spaces and 15 who left the site declined referrals.
Early in the pandemic, hundreds fled Toronto's homeless shelters for fear of contracting COVID-19, setting up tents in parks throughout the city.
Recent data obtained by The Canadian Press also shows a significant rise in violent incidents in Toronto's shelter system over the last five years.
The city maintains the shelter system is safe, and city council recently passed a motion to end encampments.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2021.
Rhythm Sachdeva, The Canadian Press