Justice Valente says if shelter capacity increases, decision could change
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has declined the Region of Waterloo’s application to have tents and living spaces removed from a property it owns at 100 Victoria St. in downtown Kitchener.
In a decision more than 50 pages long, Justice M.J. Valente said the people living at the 100 Victoria St. encampment were not in breach of the region’s bylaw on public conduct on regionally owned property and dismissed the region’s application for injunctive relief under section 440 of the Municipal Act, which would have allowed it to evict residents.
Valente cited the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and said the legal remedies sought by the Region of Waterloo went against the residents’ rights to life, liberty and security of the person because of the lack of shelter space in Waterloo region.
“I declare that the bylaw is inoperative insofar, and only insofar, as it applies to prevent the residents of the encampment from living on and erecting temporary shelters without a permit on the property when the number of homeless persons exceeds the number of available accessible shelter beds in the region,” wrote Valente.
Homelessness has been a growing issue in Waterloo region. A point-in-time count in the fall of 2021 showed more than 1,000 people didn’t have a place to live. Unsanctioned encampments have been erected in Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo.
Tents at the 100 Victoria St. encampment first went up in early 2022. The community steadily grew to a peak of about 50 tents in the summer.
Early on, the Region of Waterloo signalled people living there could not do so for long; the property would soon be developed into a transit hub.
The number of tents has shrunk as the weather has grown colder. Valente said that if the Region of Waterloo can show its bylaw is no longer in violation of the encampment residents’ Charter rights — if enough shelter space becomes available for the region’s entire unhoused population — the region can apply to terminate his declaration.
‘Well-reasoned decision,’ lawyer says
Shannon Down, executive director with the Waterloo Region Community Legal Services and a lawyer with standing in the case representing some of the people living in the encampment, called Valente’s ruling an “incredible decision for our clients and all the people in Ontario experiencing homelessness.”
“It is a very well-reasoned decision, and the finding that the encampment residents’ Charter rights were infringed is a significant precedent for this province. We are extremely pleased that Justice Valente undertook such a detailed analysis of the facts that were before the court in reaching his conclusion,” she said in an email to CBC News.
“The court’s decision recognizes the dire realities for people experiencing homelessness and the risks that they face when subject to continual displacement as a result of encampment clearings.”
In a statement, Region of Waterloo Chair Karen Redman confirmed they received Justice Valente’s decision Friday afternoon.
“Our commitment to supporting those experiencing homelessness continues, as we work to implement innovative and person-centred solutions, including our interim housing solutions and the development of a Plan to End Chronic Homelessness,” Redman said.
She added the region remains “concerned about the health and safety of those living in unsanctioned encampments across the region.”
The Region of Waterloo did not respond when asked if it planned to re-apply to the courts if shelter space can meet local needs. It only said it “will consider next steps and the impacts of this decision.”