Edmonton Journal

Smith dismisses federal advocate's call to stop encampment evictions

- LISA JOHNSON With files from Cindy Tran lijohnson@postmedia.com X: @reportrix

Premier Danielle Smith is dismissing calls from Canada's housing advocate to end the forced eviction of homeless people from tent encampment­s.

On Tuesday, Federal Housing Advocate Marie-Joseé Houle released a report saying the forced evictions put people at a greater risk of harm and violate their Charter rights. Houle said the encampment­s that have sprung up across Canada amount to a national human rights crisis.

Speaking at an unrelated announceme­nt Wednesday in Jasper, Smith dismissed the report, saying the arguments of those like the housing advocate fail to provide reasonable solutions.

“We're going to ignore her, because, quite frankly, she's wrong,” said Smith.

“It is not dignified for our vulnerable population to be victimized in these encampment­s. They're being run by criminal gangs. They're victimized not only by their addiction, but also violence, sexual assault, and we're not going to put up with that,” she said.

Smith's comments come in the midst of an ongoing encampment clearing effort by the City of Edmonton and police. Between Jan. 17 and Feb. 8, 121 homeless encampment­s were dismantled, according to a city report. As of Feb. 7, there were 33 encampment sites waiting to be assessed and inspected, compared to 221 at the beginning of 2023.

Edmonton police are no longer required to give occupants 48 hours of notice, and police told city council Tuesday there's been a “marked” decrease in the number of crime and disorder occurrence­s in the past month.

A new navigation and support centre, launched on Jan. 17 in Edmonton in an effort to direct those being removed from encampment­s to support services, has seen 231 visitors. Of those, 121 were connected to shelters, 65 referred to housing, 92 received basic health care, 117 got identifica­tion services, 91 received employment and financial support and 80 had transporta­tion arranged.

Prior to that, eight encampment clearings that began Dec. 29 saw at least 100 people displaced.

The provincial navigation centre came out of a province-led committee focused on Edmonton public safety that included Confederac­y of Treaty 6 Grand Chief Cody Thomas, Edmonton police Chief Dale McPhee, fire services, city and health officials.

The federal advocate's report emphasized the importance of working with Indigenous government­s to better respond to the distinct needs of urban First Nations, Inuit and Métis individual­s, noting it has been estimated that 60 per cent of the homeless population in Edmonton is Indigenous.

Houle said encampment­s are not a safe or sustainabl­e solution for housing, but they are often the only option that meets some people's needs.

“In the absence of adequate, affordable and accessible housing alternativ­es, all government­s must recognize that people have a right to live in encampment­s,” she stated, calling on the federal government to establish a national response plan by the end of August.

That plan must ensure those living in encampment­s can access basic necessitie­s like clean water, sanitation, food, heating and cooling, health care and harm reduction, she stated.

Houle said encampment­s are a symptom of “systemic failures” and all government­s need to act urgently to develop adequate housing and support services.

According to the National Housing Strategy Act, federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser must respond within 120 days.

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