On January 27, 2023, the Honorable Justice Valente released a precedent setting decision on the issue of homelessness and homeless outdoor encampments in Ontario. This precedent setting Superior Court of Justice case titled The Regional Municipality of Waterloo v. Persons Unknown and to be Ascertained, 2023 ONSC 670 can now be accessed on CanLII.
The court challenge was catalyzed by the Waterloo Region’s decision to bring an injunction application seeking to evict homeless persons from an outdoor encampment established on Region owned but vacant property located at 100 Victoria Street North in Kitchener, Ontario. In response, lawyers for some of the encampment residents initiated an application pursuant to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms arguing that eviction violated constitutional rights including the rights to equality and liberty.
Justice Valente ruled that the Municipality’s bylaw, which prohibits the erection of shelters on Region owned land, violates the section 7 Charter protected rights to life, liberty and security of the person. His ruling stemmed primarily from a finding that shelter beds in the Region are both inadequate in number and often inaccessible. Justice Valente also found that the shelter system can be dangerous for many individuals and therefore is often incapable of providing a safe alternative to outdoor encampments.
Having found a Charter breach, Justice Valente granted a section 52(1) Charter remedy declaring the Region’s bylaw inoperative insofar as it applies to prevent encampment residents from living and erecting temporary shelters on vacant municipal property in circumstances where the number of homeless individuals in the Region exceed the number of accessible shelter beds.
Mercedes Perez was appointed amicus curiae to represent those encampment residents who had not retained counsel and appeared to be incapable of retaining counsel due to mental health issues. She was assisted by Jen Danch at Swadron Associates and Karen A. Steward at the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly.
This case touched on the unfortunate and complex social and economic issue of homelessness in Canada and is a huge success not only for the Kitchener encampment residents but for Ontario law relating to evictions of homeless persons from public properties.
For media reporting on this case, please see: