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Waterloo Region case changing legal landscape on encampment evictions


A resolution has been reached over evictions at a Cambridge, Ont. encampment and experts say other communities should take note.

According to legal representatives for the two occupants living there, the city “has agreed to rescind its eviction notices” for the Branchton Road property, located behind the Petro-Canada gas station on Dundas Street.

In response, representatives for the City of Cambridge said: “We know this is a complex issue that is not unique to Cambridge. We are committed to working with the Region of Waterloo and our community partners to explore more effective housing solutions that support the overall health and wellness of our city.”

This isn’t Waterloo Region Community Legal Services’ first victory when it comes to encampment evictions.

In 2022, they filed an injunction to stop an eviction at the much larger encampment at 100 Victoria Street in Kitchener.

“We argued that an eviction would violate the charter rights of those encampment residents and we were successful. The court found that an eviction would be a violation of section seven of the encampment resident’s charter rights,” explained Ashley Schuitema, a lawyer with Waterloo Region Community Legal Services

That decision for the Region of Waterloo has played a major role in stopping evictions in Kingston, Guelph, Sarnia and now, Cambridge.

“Municipalities are going to be facing significant litigation risks if they're trying to evict people living in encampments and they're relying very heavily on the Waterloo Region decision and the precedent that was set in that case,” Schuitema said.

The ruling doesn’t mean municipalities aren’t able to evict people living on public property, but it sets a high bar for when they’re allowed to do so.

“If a municipality wants to evict they have the onus of showing that they have enough spaces in their shelter system, and not just looking at numbers, but also looking at the accessibility of those spaces,” explained Schuitema.

When it comes to accessibility, she said municipalities need to provide spaces for couples and families, people living with pets and other considerations.

“Cambridge is a perfect example. In Cambridge, there's no shelter space for women or gender diverse people, so if anyone is a woman that's experiencing homelessness in Cambridge, there's no shelter beds available for them,” Schuitema said.

Other legal experts agree that the Waterloo Region decision is having a major impact.

“I think it's been very impactful, I think it's been an exceptionally important decision,” said Samuel Trosow, professor emeritus at Western University in London.

He’s also a city councillor but spoke with CTV News only as a legal expert.

Trosow said the decision is likely having a chilling effect on any cities considering removing an encampment.

“The Waterloo decision, in my view, was on very solid grounds and in fact the city, the region did not appeal it.”

Despite the adversarial nature of the law, Waterloo Region Community Legal Service said they would like to work with cities to develop policy, rather than fight it out in court.

“We'd be really interested in working with the City of Cambridge, or the City of Kitchener, or City Waterloo, or the region on developing human rights based approaches to encampments,” Schuitema added. Top Stories

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