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Sept 29th 2020
City breached agreement to protect homeless, says coalition returning to court Oct 1
Toronto, ON – September 29, 2020 – The City of Toronto is putting the lives of those experiencing homelessness as well as shelter workers at risk by failing to meet minimum physical distancing standards. A coalition of human rights and housing advocates say the City is not meeting its obligations under a binding settlement agreement it made a few months ago, to ensure homeless shelters meet physical distancing standards. As a result of this serious failure, the coalition is taking the City back to the Ontario Superior Court for a hearing on October 1.
In its written legal argument, the Coalition relies on emails and other documents it obtained through the court process to show that that senior managers within the City’s Shelter Support & Housing Administration had actual knowledge on June 15 that the City was not in compliance with its obligation under the Agreement. Nevertheless, on June 15, the City asserted to the Coalition that it had achieved 100% compliance with physical distancing requirements across the shelter system.
“Infection rates are on the rise and as we move into the colder months of the year, those experiencing homelessness need to know that shelters are safe places to turn to,” says Fareeda Adam of the Black Legal Action Centre. “The City of Toronto must not only adhere to its commitments, it must also take meaningful and proactive steps to ensure the safety of people in shelters. This is even more important as we brace ourselves for the second wave of a virus that disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities, as well as people living with disabilities.”
October 1 Hearing
The Coalition is returning to court to argue that the City had not met its legal obligations under the settlement agreement as of June 15, and that a substantial number of shelters have never achieved the 2 metre distancing standard that the City agreed to. The 2 metre standard set out in the settlement agreement is based on recommendations from public health authorities to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“The City of Toronto has breached its legal obligations to protect our most vulnerable residents. So far, there have been 45 COVID-19 outbreaks in the Toronto shelter system, 649 people who use shelters have contracted COVID- 19 and four people have died, and we are all now bracing for winter and the second wave” says Doug Johnson Hatlem of Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto. “The evidence in this case provides a troubling behind-the-scenes look into the City’s mishandling of COVID-19 in its homeless shelters.”
“The evidence shows that as of June 15, on the same day that the City asserted that it had achieved full compliance with the 2 metre physical distancing requirements, multiple City managers were aware that this had, in fact, not been achieved for a substantial number of sites across the shelter system,” says Jessica Orkin, co-counsel for the Coalition. “Unfortunately, this conduct reveals a troubling pattern of disregard for the truth.”
The evidence from the City’s own records demonstrates that the City failed to provide accurate information about what was happening in shelters, as it was required to under the terms of the agreement. The Coalition is therefore asking the Honourable Justice Lorne Sossin of the Ontario Superior Court to find that the City has not acted in good faith. The Coalition is also asking that the Court order that the agreement continues in force until compliance with physical distancing standards is actually achieved across all shelters, and that the Court appoint a monitor to oversee the City’s compliance with the settlement agreement going forward.
“The Coalition seeks to ensure that these important Covid-19 risk mitigation steps protecting people in our community experiencing homelessness are in fact realized, as required under the agreement with the City,” says Andrew Porter, co-counsel for the Coalition. “The City must be held to account for its legal commitments.”
“Even as we return to court to ensure minimum public health standards in shelters, we know that the real solution is safe, permanent housing for all,” says Kenneth Hale of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario. “Rather than scrambling to make it look like they had met the terms of their agreement, the City should be working with us to find long-term solutions.”
The coalition brought a court application in April when it became clear that COVID-19 spread quickly in shared living situations and the City was not moving quickly enough to protect those who rely on the shelter system. The Coalition argued that in the context of COVID-19, the City of Toronto Shelter and Respite Standards had to be changed to ensure at least 2 metre distancing between beds, and that the City’s failure to do so was a breach of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. On May 15, on the eve of a court hearing, the City and the Coalition reached a legally-binding settlement agreement.
In the agreement, the City agreed that it would ensure 2 metre spacing for all beds in the shelter system, that beds would be available for anyone who had accessed the shelter system since March 11, and that the City would provide regular Progress Reports to the Coalition until it had achieved compliance with its obligations under the agreement – meaning that all beds in the shelter system were spaced at least 2 metres apart.
On June 15, the City announced that it had reached compliance with the physical distancing requirements set out in the agreement. The Coalition suspected that this was not correct, and brought an application to challenge the City’s claim of compliance. In the course of this application, the Coalition’s lawyers cross-examined six City staff and forced the City to disclose thousands of pages of internal documents.
The coalition is made up of:
Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto
Aboriginal Legal Services (ALS)
Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO)
Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC)
Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO)
Sanctuary, ACTO, BLAC and HALCO are represented by Goldblatt Partners LLP. CCLA is represented by Lenczner Slaght LLP. Aboriginal Legal Services is represented by Emily Hill.
Interview opportunity: Spokespeople from the following organizations are available for interviews:
• Jessica Orkin, Legal Counsel, Goldblatt Partners LLP, firstname.lastname@example.org
• Andrew Porter, Legal Counsel, Lenczner Slaght LLP, email@example.com
• Doug Johnson Hatlem, Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto, firstname.lastname@example.org
• Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, email@example.com, 647-780-9802
• Emily Hill, Aboriginal Legal Services, firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-408-4041 x. 224
• Fareeda Adam, Black Legal Action Centre, email@example.com
• Kenneth Hale, Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-834-9645
The case will be argued on Thursday and people can watch on zoom if they are interested.
Join Zoom Meeting
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.
Goldblatt Partners LLP
Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto
Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario
Executive Director, Black Legal Action Centre
Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
Equality Program Director, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
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.”
Caitlyn Kasper, Lawyer - Aboriginal Legal Services Counsel for the Chrisjohn family
(416) 408-4041 ext. 229
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.”
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