City of Kingston seeks court order to remove Belle Park encampment

Tents near the ICH in summer 2022 / Photo by Owen Fullerton

Last Updated on June 5, 2023 by Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PUBLISHING NOTE- On Monday afternoon the City of Kingston offered the following response to a query about shelter access for those with substance use disorder:

“The City does not have jurisdiction to provide or request that shelters offer consumption treatment services. Consumption treatment services are facilitated by the Province.  While the City’s shelters do not permit substance use on site, the City does provide free Kingston Transit services from shelters to the Consumption Treatment Services site.”

The city of Kingston is taking another step in its effort to remove an encampment at Belle Park that has remained at the centre of the region’s conversations around homelessness for several years.

After initially issuing trespass notices in March to those on site, the city says it has relied on voluntary compliance to move residents and has not forcibly removed anyone.

Several months after the eviction notices were distributed however the city says about 25 people remain in the encampment, leading to an application for a ruling from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in order to remove the encampment at Belle Park.

A Thursday statement from the City of Kingston says this move is being made at council’s direction, and that even with “low barrier” shelter spaces available on a relatively consistent basis, some residents have declined available beds.

“Kingston offers low-barrier shelter options to accommodate different needs, including couples, women-only, people with pets, and a wide range of support services,” the statement reads.

“A low barrier shelter generally means requirements for entry are limited or minimal for the people who wish to stay there. There is capacity to accommodate individuals remaining in the encampment, but some have declined offers of shelter and support.”

In its statement, and a follow up statement after a request for an interview with a member of city staff was declined due to the topic spanning over multiple departments, the city makes no mention of substance abuse disorder and what shelters may have low enough barriers to accommodate those in the encampment who are dealing with an addiction.

Sharry Aiken, a law professor at Queen’s University, said what the city defines as “low barrier” really isn’t to many of those seeking space, and that the public has a right to know why they have declined shelter space.

Aiken said it’s disappointing that the city is resorting to the courts to handle what is fundamentally a social problem which the city should be seeking to resolve through social services and not through enforcement.

She says it won’t solve the problem, it will just push it elsewhere.

“It’s resolved through patient and consistent interventions by social services, not by going to a court,” Aiken said.

“What a court remedy may do for the city is give them the legal authority to go in and forcibly evict people, but that’s not a solution because as soon as you execute a forcible eviction those individuals will find another park to inhabit… the problem doesn’t go away.”

The city has to this point taken a cautious approach in dealing with the residents at Belle Park, and a recent court decision in Waterloo where the presiding judge denied the injunction on the basis that the By-Law violated the homeless residents’ Charter right to life, liberty, and security has forced the city to be even more careful in its steps.

In its follow up statement, the City of Kingston says it believes there are other factors at play that makes this situation different.

“There is no question that the Region of Waterloo decision created new considerations for addressing encampments,” the statement from the city reads.

“However, each case turns on its facts and the circumstances surrounding the Waterloo encampment are different from those in Kingston. Among other distinguishing factors, there have been serious incidents occurring at the Belle Park encampment, which pose health and safety concerns for the encampment residents, for service providers and for surrounding neighbours.”

The city also said it is seeking this court decision “in lieu of forcibly removing individuals” however did not make clear how an eviction would be enforced with remaining residents.

Now, the city will apply and wait for a court date and the burden will be on them to prove that there is enough appropriate shelter space for the individuals.

Aiken says based on the Waterloo case that she would expect “a fairly careful metric” to be applied to the city’s argument.

In its follow up statement to YGK News, the city also declined to answer a question about how much it would cost to mount a case in front of the Ontario Superior Court.

Aiken says it will likely be costly and lengthy, and frankly an ill fitting way to use taxpayer funds.

“It would be better off spending that money on the availability of supports for the people in the encampment than attempting to resolve this matter through the courts,” Aiken said.

“I think this is a waste of municipal resources.”

The encampment is located in Belle Park right next to the Integrated Care Hub and the city estimates 25 people are still living there.