EDMONTON — A court in Edmonton will hear evidence today about whether to extend an emergency interim injunction granted late last week that briefly postponed the removal of homeless camps, says a lawyer for a human rights group that’s been fighting the removals.
Chris Wiebe, who is co-counsel representing the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights, says the postponement that was granted Friday only extends until noon today.
That’s just an hour after this morning’s hearing, where he says police will have the opportunity to present additional evidence that the removals need to happen now, and the coalition has a chance to rebut the arguments.
“‘Emergency interim interim’ is what we’re calling it,” Wiebe said in an interview Sunday about the granting of the short injunction.
The coalition had previously applied for an injunction to stop the removals pending a lawsuit it’s launched against the city’s encampment removal policy. The court is scheduled to hear their application for the pause on Jan. 11.
But Wiebe says city police on Thursday informed a committee of social agencies that work with the homeless about their plan to remove a number of encampments starting Monday morning, and that police asked the groups to stay away during the removals.
The Edmonton Police Service has argued in earlier documents submitted to the court that the camps pose a fire risk, Wiebe said.
The Bissell Centre, an Edmonton agency that supports low-income and homeless people, said in a statement posted on social media that people in the camps have limited options.
“Freezing temperatures are a reality for people who have to stay outdoors all night. This can lead to grave outcomes like hypothermia, amputations and loss of life. For some people, staying outside all night is the only safe option,” the centre posted Friday after the emergency interim injunction was granted.
“(The removals) will disproportionally affect Indigenous people and negatively impact our community’s efforts towards reconciliation.”
EPS did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said in a statement Friday night that the “scale and timing” of the planned encampment response on Monday was “concerning,” noting he found out about it Thursday night.
Sohi said he had immediate concerns about how vulnerable people would be supported, and said he has been advised the city isn’t leading the response, but has only been asked to provide cleaning services.
“The City of Edmonton endeavors to take a balanced approach based on the assessments of risks to individual encampment residents, the community and the public,” Sohi’s statement said.
“Given the number of people potentially impacted in this case, I am worried about how displaced people may take shelter in other spaces that are not safe or appropriate.”
City of Edmonton spokeswoman Cheryl Voordenhout said in an email Sunday that the social agencies were notified of the removals to “engage their assistance, not prevent them from supporting people who need help.”
“Service providers were asked to remain out of the immediate worksite for their safety. Police are involved with these encampments because they have been assessed and deemed to be high risk encampments,” Voordenhout said.
Homeward Trust Edmonton, an organization working to end homelessness, said about 3,080 people were experiencing homelessness in the provincial capital as of early November — 521 more than the same time last year.
A 54-year-old man and a woman believed to be in her 20s died in encampment fires during the first weekend of November.
Edmonton police spokesman Scott Pattison said last month that more than 14,000 complaints against encampments had been made to the city in 2023. As a result, 4,500 camps were investigated and responded to.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2023.
— With files from Jamin Mike in Edmonton.
Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press