Armed with riot gear and deploying pepper spray, Halifax Police clashed with protestors, forcefully removing and demolishing a pair of wooden shelters built for homeless people at the Old Central Library on Wednesday afternoon.
On several occasions city officials have served the shelters’ occupants with eviction notices in a variety of locations: Old Central Library, Peace and Friendship Park, the Halifax Commons and others. Early Wednesday morning, police began clearing several of the encampments.
By mid-day, hundreds of protestors made their way to the Old Central Library, attempting at various points to stop the removal of the shelters. HalifaxToday witnessed several people arrested. By mid-afternoon tensions had escalated further, and police deployed pepper spray on the crowd.
According to several witnesses at the protest, at least two minors were directly struck: a 10-year-old and 15-year-old girl. By early evening, one shelter had been removed, while the other was demolished on-site with sledgehammers and a chainsaw.
More than a dozen people were reportedly arrested, with police disclosing that “we expect these individuals to be released on a promise to appear in court at later dates.”
Several people were treated by paramedics on site, though those present were unable to disclose how many people needed medical attentions.
Halifax Pride announced that they had cancelled their planned events for the evening, repurposing their stage on the Citadel as a safe gathering point. By the end of the afternoon, the demonstration had shifted to the steps of the police office, where protestors were waiting for those arrested to be released.
The events drew condemnation from local progressive politicians.
“To send 50 police officers here to destroy the shed is beyond comprehension,” said NDP leader Gary Burrill, who stood with several party colleagues face to face with police. “It has been extremely poor judgment on the city’s part, and on the part of the HRP to proceed with this demolition in the face of deep public protest, and in fact endanger many people in the course of the demonstration. They could simply have walked away.”
“The situation at a number of parks, due to the recent proliferation of tents, has created an increased risk to the health and safety of both the tent occupants and the public, and must be addressed,” said HRM officials, in a statement released Wednesday morning. “The municipality has received numerous reports from residents including public nuisance complaints and concerns for public safety. In light of this, steps were taken earlier this week to provide tent occupants with written notice to vacate and remove all belongings from municipal property immediately.
“Today, following an extensive effort by the municipality over the last several months focused on education, awareness and engagement, Halifax Regional Police and municipal compliance officers attended a number of municipally-owned sites to help safely remove encampments that have been set up in violation of existing laws and regulations,” said the police, in an official statement.
“We have an obligation to protect public safety, as well as the safety of those living in these encampments. Over the last several months, there has been a progressive increase in calls for service and complaints related to these encampment sites and surrounding areas, said HRP Chief Dan Kinsella. “Our approach always starts with engagement, and we continue to work with the municipality, service providers and community partners on ways to best support people experiencing homelessness.”
The use of force to clear the encampments draws parallels with a similar conflict in Toronto last month, when police cleared several large encampments that had sprung up in city parks.
Wednesday’s events marked a new nadir in the simmering stand-off between supporters of Halifax Mutual Aid, an anonymous community-led group who have been building the shelters, and the police and, in many ways, the day’s events were the worst-case scenario that many in both camps had feared.
HalifaxToday witnessed the widespread removal of police name tags, which are required to be displayed.
When asked repeatedly for comment, most refused, though one officer on scene said they “may have misplaced them.”
“This is exactly the kind of behaviour that people who have been critical of police services have talked about,” said Burrill. “Entirely heavy-handed, entirely insensitive to the concrete situation.”