[Hpn] Toronto homeless burned out by police?
Thu, 18 May 2000 18:54:50 -0400
EYE Magazine, Toronto, May 18, 2000
Burned out by police?
BY TOM LYONS
Police officers from Toronto's 14
Division are being blamed for
destroying and then setting fire to a
squatters' camp at Spadina and Lake
Shore, according to two homeless
men who lived there.
The two men told eye (magazine) the officers
smashed up the camp and poured
gasoline over the wreckage on the
morning of May 4. Later, in the
afternoon, a second pair of officers
allegedly visited the collection of squats beneath the
Spadina on-ramps to the Gardiner Expressway and Lake
Shore Blvd. and set the remains on fire.
"I got a wake-up call in the morning there," says James
Beach, 29. "It was nice, so I slept outside the squat,
in the open under the bridge.
"The police came and woke me up at 7:30 in the morning.
And they sort of took a look to the right after they woke
me up, and noticed the structures we had built. They
proceeded there, and started dismantling them. First,
they woke up Pops [another homeless man] and kicked him
out. He wasn't even allowed to get all his things, his
belongings out of the houses. Then I witnessed them go
back to the car and come back with some gas and spread it
around the squats. I didn't see them light the match,
though. But I came back later that day, at maybe 4 or 4:30,
and it was all burned down. And my stuff was in one of the
houses, too. I had a sleeping bag. Now I don't have one."
Beach identified the police car driven by the two
officers as carrying the number 14S3.
Ron Craven, 54, who was also at the scene,
recalls the police car's number as 14S23, rather
than 14S3, and remembers being woken up at
8am, rather than 7:30.
"Thursday morning around 8am, two police
officers from 14 Division came," says Craven. "I
was sleeping in my squat with a couple of other
guys. And they came and told us to get lost.
These two guys moved quickly, and I stopped to
grab my sleeping bag and stuff. They threatened to
pepper-spray me. I went away, I came back, and they had
just totally destroyed my camp. Smashed. I was working on
getting a room, so I was starting to collect furniture
and stuff. I had a filing cabinet and a nice little desk,
that when I came back were just totally smashed up. Just
for no reason at all. And the whole camp broken up.
"So I gathered up what I could retrieve from it and built
another one beside it. And that was around noon, I guess
I did that. Then, around 3 o'clock, I was out on the
corner of Spadina and Lake Shore panhandling. And the
14S23 cruiser came along and asked me if I wanted to get
arrested. I said no, not particularly. Then he came in
here," continues Craven, pointing beneath the on-ramp,
"and I stayed out here [by the intersection] and watched,
and then the next thing I know, there's smoke coming up.
After the firetrucks left, I went in to see, and there's
"They burned everything. All my clothes. My pictures are
the worst, eh? Because I got a 12-year-old. I got no
pictures left of him now. And a computer. I had an old
computer. And I had tools. I came back and just cried."
But the thing that angered him the most, says Craven,
was the risk to his life and the lives of the other
squatters. "I could have been sleeping there, under a
pile of sleeping bags, and they wouldn't have seen me.
I woulda gone up with it, too, if I'd been sleeping
there. They don't give a shit."
Samuel Godfrey, a student lawyer at Parkdale Community
Legal Services and a member of the Committee to Stop
Target Policing (CSTP), visited the site, talked to
eyewitnesses, and says their story rings true. He says
the alleged incident is an example of the widespread
police destruction of squatters' property that he
other members of the CSTP complained about to the
Toronto Police Services Board on Nov. 22, 1999.
"This is arson, pure and simple," he says. "It fits in
with the criminal code definition, and it's a criminal
act. It needs to be investigated."
Robert Kellerman, a Toronto defence lawyer and member
of the Law Union, agrees. "Whether people are lawfully
[camping] or not, I don't think police have a right to
destroy property. If the property belongs to the
squatters, it's their personal goods," says Kellerman.
"If these guys burned something, it's arson. And it's
clearly arson in the criminal code. Because no one has
the right to light fire to someone else's property. And
it's certainly mischief to damage property like that."
Kellerman adds that police would never consider
destroying private property in Rosedale, even if it was
left in someone else's yard.
"Obviously, this kind of solution is reserved for the
poor. And people who they think should have no rights,
and so on. I think it's similar to the situation in
South Africa, during the apartheid regime, when people
would squat on the outside of the city in shanty towns.
And the government would just come along with bulldozers
and bulldoze down people's homes and property. And it's
the same attitude, that these people are basically
outside the normal society, that they are somehow to
be treated as if they're less than human."
A young woman who lived in the now-destroyed squats says
the shelters offered a measure of safety in a precarious
"At least over there I felt safe," she says. "I could go
home and have a sleeping bag already there, and have my
bed set up the way it is, and have my stuff there. I
slept in the park the other day. It was Saturday. And I
ended up waking up with an old man's hands down my shirt."
Allister Field, the complaints coordinator at 14 Division,
said the station hadn't received any complaints from the
homeless people making the accusations. He added that he
would look into the matter and try to assure the men
through their lawyer that it is "well within their rights
to make a formal complaint under the Police Services Act."
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