EDMONTON - With sources within City Hall and administration confirming the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) has unilaterally enacted a plan to forcibly decamp hundreds of Edmontonians in what is likely the city’s largest encampment sweep ever, Public Interest Alberta and allies are calling for EPS to stand down. The planned decampent is an infringement of the Charter rights of houseless people by EPS, will make the situation worse on the ground, and will bring Edmonton’s already massively strained emergency health system further to the breaking point.
“This plan, which appears to have been made unilaterally by EPS, cannot move ahead,” said Bradley Lafortune, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta. “There are not enough shelter spaces in our city, and those we do have are not adequate to support people who need safe and secure spaces to survive. Quite frankly, this will put lives at risk at a time when we need a radical and coordinated response that honours human rights. We are demanding EPS stand down from its plan and to stop criminalizing homelessness on our streets."
“We are on the streets every week and one thing is clear: sweeps like this will cause more harm and re-traumatization to the unhoused community,” said Rachelle Gladue, co-founder of Tawaw Outreach Collective. “As an Indigenous led organization, we understand the trauma that comes from these interactions with the police. We recognize that social disorder isn’t caused by encampments, the social issues Chief McFee describes are rooted directly from systemic oppression and the criminalization of homelessness, issues which won’t be resolved by encampment sweeps. If there was ever a time to engage in discussion about reconciliation, it’s now. These displacements are a prime example of modern day colonization.”
Multiple sources within City Hall, service providing organizations, and city administration have independently confirmed that this mass decampment decision has not followed existing process and protocol under the City’s current encampment response strategy. Instead, service organizations were caught off guard when notified directly by EPS that eight encampments would be “closed and cleaned” between Monday and Friday next week.
“What are Edmonton police thinking? Even they are bound by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Courts have said clearly: the eviction of homeless people from encampments violates s.7, the right to life and security of the person, in situations where there are not enough shelter spaces or where available spaces are inappropriate,” said Leilani Farha, Executive Director of The Shift and former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing. “I have spent my work life on the right to housing - I've never understood the rationale of evicting people from their homes when they have nowhere appropriate to go. The Police need to stop and re-think.”
With Alberta’s acute and emergency healthcare in a severe capacity crisis, this will only make matters worse. With hospitals in Edmonton at 150 per cent capacity in many instances, and EMS at code red, this decision by EPS displays an egregious lack of respect for other emergency responders and our overcapacity healthcare system.
“The problem is immediate and severe and will have a direct impact on the members I represent in addictions and mental health, community care, EMS, and professionals across the health system – I can’t stay silent,” said Mike Parker, President of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta. “Our members are on the frontline of an already overrun healthcare system. We’re already red-coded over and over again. We’ve got hospitals that are continually nearing 150 per cent capacity with 0 capacity in ICU. We can’t displace more people and we can’t put more pressure on the system.”