esn protest

Hundreds line up outside Toronto mayor's condo to protest tiny shelter injunction

An estimated 1,100 people waited outside Mayor John Tory's condo in the cold, rainy weather on Sunday to protest the city's decision to take legal action against Khaleel Seivwright, the carpenter who's been making tiny insulated shelters for the homeless all winter.

The protest, organized by the Encampment Support Network (ESN), saw hundreds of Toronto residents leave their own notices of application on a cardboard cutout of Tory outside his condo at Bloor Bedford Parkette between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Feb. 28. 

"People were in high spirits, really driving a collective desire for change," Lorraine Lam, an outreach worker for Sanctuary, told theGentries of the protest, adding that seeing the diverse crowd persist through the uncomfortable weather was "super duper encouraging."

The city filed an injunction against Seivwright in February demanding that he stop illegally placing his tiny shelters in parks, citing safety risks such as fires, but the decision quickly led to widespread outrage from members of the public who say the city should be thanking Seivwright for his dedication to helping those experiencing homelessness instead of punishing him.

That outrage was reflected in Sunday's turnout, which included Toronto residents of all ages. 

According to ESN, the supply of notices directed at Mayor Tory was actually depleted by mid-day, and residents were willing to wait 45 minutes in the rain while volunteers replenished the forms. 

The notices say they're from the "Superior Court of the People" between "Decent People" and "John Tory & His Developer Cronies," and they call on the mayor to drop the application against Seivwright, repeal the bylaw that prohibits camping in parks and build affordable housing.

"People are living in encampments because they have nowhere else to go," reads the form. "There is a pandemic, shelters are full and are rife with COVID outbreaks."

Protestors were invited to take a notice and sign it before taping it to a cardboard cutout of Tory, which served as a proxy for the mayor who was invited to come down and speak to residents but declined to do so.

By the end of the day, ESN says 1,100 notices were served by people in the city.

Necessary COVID-19 safety precautions were also maintained throughout the day as protestors donned masks and practiced physical distancing. 

The city has argued that tiny shelters pose a safety risk to those experiencing homelessness as well as other Toronto residents since Seivwright first started building them in November. 

Last week, city spokesperson Brad Ross told theGentries that there's been a 250 per cent increase in encampment fires over 2019 as well as two fatalities related to encampment fires since the start of 2020.

But advocates have long countered that these makeshift shelters are often the best option in a city with a shelter system that is consistently at capacity and experiencing multiple COVID-19 outbreaks.

They say the structures provide warmth, privacy, safety and autonomy — all of which are sorely lacking in city-run shelters.

"Eleven hundred people showed up to serve John Tory his papers of notice and to say that the city needs to publicly acknowledge the immensity of the crisis it created," Leeanne Beck, a local photo journalist and videographer who recently created a documentary about what it's like living in the Trinity Bellwoods encampments, told theGentries.

"We want John Tory and the City of Toronto to drop this injunction immediately. Repeal the bylaws that work to criminalize people just trying to stay alive. We needed this yesterday."

Lead photo by

Leeanne Beck

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