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Guelph mayor pulls motion seeking to ban downtown encampments

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An attempt to ban encampments in downtown Guelph has been shelved for now, but the issue is far from settled.

Last week, Mayor Cam Guthrie put forward a controversial motion that, if approved, would have created a bylaw to prohibit encampments in the downtown core.

Over the weekend, he announced his decision to pull the motion, citing a recent court ruling in Kingston.

“The initial goal, and the continued goal, might I add, is to actually just try to help people that are living in these vulnerable situations,” Guthrie said Tuesday. “I'm also listening to a lot of business owners in the downtown, their employees, their visitors and they're having a lot of unfortunate – I would call it friction or conflict – with some of these issues that are playing out.”

Critics call Guthrie’s approach to the unhoused harmful.

“We’re seeing what Cam Guthrie’s doing, and the municipality’s response is to criminalize them, which we find really troubling,” said Horeen, a concerned Guelph resident.

Guthrie said he understands it’s a difficult situation.

“It's about trying to find some balance here, around the immediate concern of making sure people are housed and have health and safety wrapped around them. And at the same time, I have to be able to listen to the concerns of the community.”

COURT RULING

The conversation has been put on hold for now, after a ruling in a Kingston court upholding the rights of encampment residents in that city.

It builds off a similar ruling last year, where a judge denied the Region of Waterloo’s bid for an injunction to clear the encampment at the corner of Victoria and Weber streets in Kitchener

In that case the judge ruled that, given the region did not have adequate shelter spaces, evicting encampment residents would violate their charter rights to life, liberty and security.

“Hopefully this will be a wake up call to municipalities that they need to be more creative in their approach to these issues,” Ashley Schuitema, a lawyer with Waterloo Region Community Legal Service, said. “They need to stop wasting resources and taking unsheltered people to court to try to evict them.”

While Guthrie has pulled the motion for now, he says this issue still needs to be resolved.

“I'm not going to shy away from it, because it is coming into me constantly. And as the mayor, I believe I have a duty to at least have the conversation about it,” Guthrie said.

He plans on revisiting it in the new year.

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