August 19, 2021
The removal of “homeless encampments” from municipal parks is a human rights violation
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – The Dalhousie Legal Aid Service condemns yesterdays’ efforts by the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) to remove 40 occupants of tents and temporary shelters from public parks across the city. From media reports, it appears that the HRM’s actions constitute multiple human rights violations. We take issue both with HRM’s decision to evict and with the city’s failure to adequately consult with community stakeholders before taking action on this decision.
The right to adequate housing is firmly entrenched in Canadian and international human rights law as well as in the HRM’s own policies. This right includes protection against eviction into homelessness. Despite Mayor Savage’s claims, several people have told reporters that they received no adequate offers of alternative accommodation prior to their eviction.
The evictions raise very serious constitutional issues, including the right to non discrimination for persons with disabilities. The Mental Health Commission of Canada estimates that up to half of the 150,000 to 300,000 Canadians experiencing homelessness have serious mental health problems. By evicting and ticketing those who have nowhere else to go, the HRM is criminalizing some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Mayor Savage says that all 40 evictions were needed to protect the health and safety of both occupants and the public. The Mayor is painting with a broad brush. Public safety issues should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and not by punishing an entire class of people. To do so is to victim blame those who are suffering most from the very housing crisis that those same politicians have failed to address.
Homelessness costs Canada $1.4 billion per year in emergency services, shelters, and criminal justice expenses. It does not make moral or economic sense for the city to play a game of whack-a-mole with homeless encampments. It is already well-established that the best way to both reduce the financial cost of homelessness and to treat mental health conditions is to take a housing first approach to homelessness.
We call upon the Mayor and Council to halt the evictions until they sit down with all stakeholders to draw up a housing transition plan that is lawful, orderly, and humane. We also call on the new Premier to act by building new affordable housing units and by funding new housing-first projects.