Aboriginal Legal Services



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New Way to Defend Rights of People Experiencing Homelessness During Pandemic

TORONTO, June 9, 2020 —An online form launched today at COVIDShelterRights.ca allows anyone to anonymously report situations where the City of Toronto is not living up to its commitments and duties to protect people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19.

In response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of public-interest organizations, the City of Toronto committed on 15 May 2020 to immediately implement certain minimal physical distancing standards in its shelter system.

The City has committed to use its best efforts to provide two metres of distance between all shelter beds, to end the use of bunk beds, and to provide a bed for anyone who has used the shelter system since 11 March 2020, even if they were forced to leave for any reason including due to fears of COVID-19.

“People experiencing homelessness in Toronto should know their rights,” said Jessica Orkin, a lawyer at Golblatt Partners representing the coalition. “If you have received shelter support services in the City of Toronto since the COVID-19 crisis began, you are protected by this agreement. This includes those living in tents. If you are being offered a space within the shelter system, it must meet these standards.”

The City’s commitments are set out in an enforceable legal agreement. The coalition that filed this lawsuit is prepared to go back to court if necessary to enforce the City’s commitments under the settlement agreement.

COVID-19 is still a serious problem for people experiencing homelessness in Toronto. To date, more than 528 have contracted the virus, 4 have died, and there have been 36 COVID-19 outbreaks at Toronto shelters.

Anyone who has information that the City is not living up to its commitments is encouraged to fill out the form at COVIDShelterRights.ca. You can also upload photos and videos of shelter conditions. You do not have to give your name, and any information you provide about conditions in the Toronto shelter system is confidential and protected by legal privilege.

“People experiencing homelessness in Toronto continue to be extraordinarily vulnerable to COVID-19,” said Greg Cook, outreach worker at Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto. “The new online form at COVIDShelterRights.ca will help the community hold our City to account and make sure they follow through on their commitments.”

Information collected through the form may be used by the coalition of public-interest organizations in their lawsuit against the City of Toronto, in order to enforce compliance with the agreed measures to protect the health of people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City has agreed to report regularly on its adherence to these commitments until it achieves and sustains compliance for two months.

The coalition filed its lawsuit on 24 April 2020, in response to the City’s failure to provide for adequate physical distancing in its shelters, and the rapid increase in cases of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness.

Coalition members include Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto, Aboriginal Legal Services, Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, Black Legal Action Centre, Canadian Civil Liberties Association and HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario.

More information about the lawsuit against the City of Toronto can be found here: https://ccla.org/toronto-must-defend-homeless/

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Quotes from the coalition members

“It is vital that people staying at a shelter have an opportunity to stay safe and that people who ask for a bed inside have access to one. COVIDShelterRights.ca will help ensure that people are able to keep the City accountable to its commitments.” – Greg Cook, Outreach Worker, Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto

“The fight for equality must include a recognition that discrimination and poverty disproportionately affect people who are Black, Indigenous, have disabilities, or are otherwise racialized or marginalized. Every missed opportunity to house individuals in need, every missed deadline to create physical distancing in shelters has taken a terrible toll on the health and lives of people experiencing homelessness.”   –  Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Equality Program Director, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

“This settlement is a two-way street. The City must be transparent and accountable. This new website helps to hold the City to account through input from people most impacted: those who rely upon or work within the shelter system.” – Ryan Peck, Executive Director, HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario


For media inquiries, please reach out directly to each coalition member to set up an interview.

Jessica Orkin


Goldblatt Partners LLP



Greg Cook


Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto



Kenneth Hale


Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario



Ruth Goba


Executive Director, Black Legal Action Centre



Noa Mendelsohn Aviv


Equality Program Director, Canadian Civil Liberties Association





Debra Chrisjohn's family rallies support to

honour her during the criminal trial of a London Police Constable


LONDON, ON: The family of Debra Chrisjohn has been attending the criminal trial of Constable Nicholas Doering of the London Police Service that began on Monday October 21, 2019 and continues throughout the week. Constable Doering has been charged with criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessaries of life.

The family will be holding a rally, with traditional drumming, singing, and speeches in honour and recognition of Ms. Debra Chrisjohn on Friday, October 25th at the London Courthouse at 80 Dundas Street from 1-2pm. The family welcomes supporters.

Ms. Chrisjohn’s sisters have heard evidence over the last three days of the trial by judge-alone in the Superior Court of Justice. The evidence tells the story of Debra Chrisjohn obstructing traffic and requiring the help of strangers around her to stay safe while waiting for 911 emergency response. Constable Doering arrived on scene first and immediately arrested Ms. Chrisjohn on an outstanding warrant related to a shoplifting charge held by the Ontario Provincial Police.

Despite the arrival of London EMS soon thereafter, no medical assessment was completed and Constable Doering left with Ms. Chrisjohn in the backseat of his cruiser. By the time she was transferred to OPP just outside of St. Thomas, she was largely unresponsive and could not comply with basic police requests.

“It’s painfully clear that my sister required assessment by the paramedics who were on scene and Constable Doering clearly brushed them off, even after they directly asked if they could look at her,” says Cindy Chrisjohn, Debra’s sister. “How could it be so obvious to strangers that she needed assistance and he missed it... I don’t think he missed it. He ignored it and she died because he failed to do his job as a professional.”

Brittany and Ruby Chrisjohn, also sisters of Debra, sadly agree. “He didn’t want to deal with waiting for her at the hospital to make sure she was okay. He couldn’t wait to transfer her to the OPP and purposely misled them into believing she had already been medically cleared. Her life was in his hands.”

“It is incredibly difficult for the family of Debra Chrisjohn to hear about her final hours. The inaction by Constable Nicholas Doering allowed Ms. Chrisjohn’s physical condition to deteriorate so rapidly without medical intervention. This is a form of police violence,” explains Caitlyn Kasper, lawyer at Aboriginal Legal Services and counsel for the family. She added, “Ms. Chrisjohn was handcuffed, in the backseat of Constable Doering’s police cruiser in his custody. She was completely incapable of obtaining help for herself and he was responsible for her


wellbeing. This is why he is facing these charges. He needs to answer for his failure to protect her.”


Phone: Email:

Caitlyn Kasper, Lawyer - Aboriginal Legal Services Counsel for the Chrisjohn family

(416) 408-4041 ext. 229













Gehl v. Attorney General Of Canada (PDF)
April 20, 2017

Aboriginal Legal Services Gehl Press Release (PDF)
April 20, 2017


Media Releases June 28, 2016

Jethro Anderson’ s Family Reacts to the Verdict of the First Nations Youth Inquest

THUNDER BAY, ON: Today the jury released a verdict and recommendations in the inquest into the deaths of seven First Nation youth.  The families welcome the recommendations but believe they must be implemented to make a real difference for First Nation youth’s access to and opportunity for safety and education.

Stella Anderson, Jethro’s mother, was particularly glad to hear that the jury recommended improvements to Police investigations and the way that Police will communicate to families and search parties looking for missing youth. She agreed to become a party to the inquest because of her experience 16 years ago, searching for Jethro when he was missing. She wants better protocols and communications around searches and the jury seems to agree.

After hearing months of evidence and testimony of 146 witnesses throughout the inquest, the jury found that Jethro died from drowning and that the manner in which he came to his death is undetermined.  He went missing on October 28, 2000 and his body was found on November 11, 2000, in the Kaministiqua River.

Stella recognizes the importance of the inquest and the recommendations but also feels like she did not get all of answers that she needed to about how Jethro died.  His death still weighs heavy on her.  She said, “Not a day passes where I do not think about Jethro.  I often think about his last moments and worry.  Something as small as doing a load of laundry in cold water, washing my hair, taking a bath, or watching TV can give me anxiety.  These are all moments that are part of every day life and they remind me of my son drowning.  No mother should have to experience this ever, but I do, even 16 years after Jethro’s death.”

The fact that Stella has more questions than answers about Jethro’s death is worrisome.  Despite this, she remains hopeful that the recommendations will be implemented so that investigations of missing First Nation youth in Thunder Bay and elsewhere will result in better communication between police and families.  She stated that she “believes that something must be learned from this inquest and that recommendations must be followed so that lessons from Jethro’s death are not wasted.”

Kyle Morrisseau’ s  Father Reacts to the Verdict of the First Nations Youth Inquest

THUNDER BAY, ON: Today the jury released a verdict and recommendations in the inquest into the deaths of seven First Nation youth.  Christian Morrisseau, Kyle’s father was unable to attend the verdict in Thunder Bay today but made a heart felt statement directed to his family,  the other six families whose children were the subject of this inquest and other parties involved in the inquest:

I miss my son Kyle and my heart goes out to all of the other families that are going through the hardship of losing a child. But I thank god and creator for sending me my son for 17 years to see him grow up as a young man. I am proud of my son Kyle and I am proud of the other six students for their strong teachings of love and sacrifice for generations to come. I believe that all seven students were looking down and shining on all of us, the families, the Coroner, the Jury, the Lawyers and those who took part in the inquest with great peace. Form this day forward, I will try to hurt no more and until the day I die and get to hold my son again, I will speak and teach others about what these seven fallen feathers did for other students. I believe that they are now flying free with crowns of flowers for all of us today.  Their job is done. I am very happy and proud of my son Josh, Kyle’s brother, who continues taking the lead for me and his young siblings in this inquest and in other ways. I am also proud and owe much respect to my son Bret who will be going out to high school next September.  He has a strong, brave heart of hope and courage, given that he lost his older brother when he left home for school.  He reminds me that there is faith and hope for all of us to gain knowledge and education when he and other First Nation children like him leave their families, loved ones and their home communities to learn,  to improve their lives and to create opportunity.

Jordan Wabasse’ s Family Reacts to the Verdict of the First Nations Youth Inquest

THUNDER BAY, ON: Jordan Wabasse’s family welcomes the recommendations the jury released today.  Jordan’s parents Bernice and Derek Jacob are glad that the recommendations strongly stated that both on and off reserve students deserve equity in education and that funding should not be determined based on their residence but on needs.  Bernice and Derek believe that now that the inquest is over, the real work of implementing the recommendations needs to start.

The inquest heard evidence about how First Nation families often cannot afford to move off-reserve for school attendance.  The inquest also heard that funding was insufficient and excluded First Nation students whose parents leave reserves to provide safe households in the city.  Bernice explained that “it is not easy for families to just move away from home to stay with their kids while they attend school.  It is too costly.”  Derek added “that is why we are glad the jury recommended early childhood education, elementary school, high school facilities and resources in First Nation communities.  These are valuable recommendations that can increase our children’s success if they are implemented.”

Derek noted that there are risks to moving a whole family to a city for a high school student.  He said “sometimes you cannot find the same job in a city that you have been doing on the reserve.  First Nation people are sometimes even denied housing or job opportunities because of their race.”    Bernice added, “Not all Aboriginal people fit the stereotypes that are assumed about First Nation people from reserves.  Many of us do well in our communities and we want to keep building communities with strong youth that have real opportunities. Leaving our families, culture, language and traditional ways is not a good option”

Bernice said “our family participated in the inquest because we did not want any other family to go through what we went through. Some communities do not even have a high school and no choice but to send their children away for school. We have kept our younger sons home but at the cost of improving their learning opportunities.”  She added that “When Jordan was missing for so long, we were hopeful.  When his body was found, we lost our son and his bright future but everyone else lost the opportunity to learn from our son a love for hockey, love for  nature, love for hunting and our family lost the knowledge he could pass on to his younger brothers and other community members.  No family should have to feel this type of loss.  No family should have to send young teenagers away from home for education---that is why it is so important that the recommendations the jury made about education in First Nation communities are actually put into place.”

Jethro Anderson’ s Family Reacts to the Verdict of the First Nations Youth Inquest


Kyle Morrisseau’ s Father Reacts to the Verdict of the First Nations Youth Inquest


Jordan Wabasse’ s Family Reacts to the Verdict of the First Nations Youth Inquest



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