Riot police outside 14 Division, July 21, 2021. Photo: K. Taghabon.
Riot police outside 14 Division, July 21, 2021. Photo: K. Taghabon.

No Convictions for Encampment Defenders

Tuesday July 27, 2021, was the day I was assaulted by the police while I was peacefully protesting the eviction of homeless people from a public park. Thursday, September 23 was the day I was arrested for my defence of the encampment.

My history with the Lamport Stadium encampment was fairly simple. I was part of a group called ALAB (“All Lawyers Are Bad”). One of the many branches of ALAB connected people experiencing housing insecurity with food banks. This is so they wouldn’t have to carry their whole life across the city with them just to access food. We used our spare time to make that trip for them, allowing them to use their capacity elsewhere.

Over the harsh winter of 2021, I took it upon myself to make hot meals to deliver with our food bank deliveries. I also delivered hot meals to folks who weren’t in our food bank program, but were in neighbouring tents or encampments. This is how I became aware of the Lamport Stadium encampment. It became somewhere I would regularly bring between 15 to 20 hot meals.

On July 27, at around 3 a.m., I got a text from folks who were concerned that police were coming to the encampment. And like at Trinity Bellwoods and Alexandra parks previously, they were showing up with the intent to smash people’s homes, and evict people with nowhere to go. So I got out of bed and arrived as soon as I could, approximately 4:20 a.m.

I let my boss know that I might be late for work and I braced myself for a stressful morning with a cup of tea. Around noon the police barrier had been established. Water and supplies were being passed over wherever nearby supporters were. Inside the fence area I was just trying to contain my anxiety. I imagine everyone felt the same.

The police were clearly mobilizing, and so in that moment we formed a human wall with a line of artfully decorated pallets we had painted at an art day a week earlier. These art pallets we stood behind were soon ripped out from our grasp by police officers. Behind them more officers brandishing police batons moved in to “dispense of the crowd.” In my case I was shoved off of my feet and onto my back, picked up, then shoved again repeatedly. At one point when I was picked back up, I was hit in the face so hard that my N95 mask ripped.

We were being shoved into the tents and the belongings we were there to protect. The police were using our bodies to destroy the encampment. We were assaulted and arrested until we had been moved all the way out of the park. At that point the police secured the park and set up a fence. People were evicted from their homes and their belongings trashed.

The protest moved to Toronto Police 14 Division to protest the arrest and charging of people who had been defending the encampment. People were being held at the police division. While we protested, the police assaulted us and pepper sprayed us there as well.

I remember waking up incredibly sore the next day, the pepper spray still burning like a sunburn on the back of my neck. I was covered in bruises.

You can imagine my surprise in September when I received a phone call from a friend informing me the police had blasted wanted posters across the city and that I was “wanted” for two counts of assaulting a police officer during the protest at 14 Division.

The authorities clearly wanted to pretend the eviction of the Lamport encampment never happened. But they thought they could intimidate the folks who were working with the encampment by charging us for the peaceful protest that followed the eviction at 14 Division.

They dragged us to jail and tried to impose inhumane bail conditions that would restrict our rights to attend peaceful protests. We fought those conditions in bail court from jail and won.

Then after years of dragging us through the legal system, walking the charges down to obstruction of “justice,” Crown attorney Tania Monteiro and Judge Lucia Favret made an absolute mockery of justice during our plea deal proceedings.

Jazzy Keiser
Jazzy Keiser

When I requested to plead before a new judge, Judge Favret, who had been incapable of grasping the concept of pronouns versus honorifics, had a tantrum, in my opinion, but eventually had to let it happen. Judge Favret chastised our lawyers in public court and advised us that we may want to seek “better” legal representation. Monteiro yelled at me during this process as well.

When we finally were heard in front of a different judge, Judge Enzo Rondinelli, we pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Crown attorney Monteiro had no substantive or legal argument to support her conditions that I required “anger management” and probation supervision, and Judge Rondinelli threw out the sentence and conditions, adding that the Crown might count themselves lucky that this didn’t go to court, and that the defendants were “outstanding community members.”

We all left with absolute discharges. That felt like a major win, and vindication.

But ultimately what was the cost? Encampments went away for a while. The community built there was shattered, scattered to the wind and had to struggle to maintain itself.

I haven’t gone back to volunteering. I felt quite defeated and for quite a while the threat of a prison sentence was floating over our heads.

It’s worth noting that other folks are keeping up the fight, because the issue of people being kept in poverty and having to live outside isn’t going away. Groups like the Encampment Support Network Parkdale (which ALAB essentially joined), The Bike Brigade, and the legal team that defended us at the Community Justice Collective are worth supporting. I still hope that something good can come of all we went through.

Correction, Sept 21, 2023: The last name of the author was misspelled in the print edition and has been fixed here.

This article appeared in the 2023 Sept/Oct issue.