Anti-Camping Clause Removed From Proposed Amendments to Toronto’s Streets By-Law

Thanks to quiet efforts by the Wellesley Institute and other advocates for the city’s homeless — including Councillor Mike Layton — a clause prohibiting “camping,” “dwelling,” and “lodging” on Toronto’s streets and in public areas has been removed from the proposed amendments to Municipal Code Chapter 743 (“Use of Streets and Sidewalks”) that will be going before the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee for approval in November.

The proposed amendments to the by-law, which governs the use of city streets, sidewalks and public spaces, were the result of an effort to harmonize legislation from the city’s seven pre-amalgamation municipalities into a single, consistent by-law that uniformly manages activities occurring on public streets. This particular clause was entirely new, however, as none of the seven municipalities had had any regulations regarding camping, dwelling, or lodging on city streets.

The Streets Bylaw Staff Report includes both the rationale for the clause’s removal as well as the proposed amendments in their final form.

While relatively novel in Canada, in the United States, laws like the one quietly inserted into Toronto’s Street By-law are far more common and have been the subject of much contention and debate since the 1990s.  The concern has been that such legislation effectively criminalizes homelessness and the negative effects of such legislation across the country have been well-documented.

A 2009 report by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless in the United States entitled Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities  includes the results of research regarding laws and practices in 273 American cities related to the criminalization of homelessness. Legal challenges to these laws are common, and the report also documents the lawsuits from various jurisdictions in which those measures and practices have been challenged. In 2008, a similar by-law in Victoria, BC was struck down by the BC Supreme Court on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and a violation of the Charter rights of people who are homeless.

As page seven of the staff report makes clear, the clauses included in the current and amended by-law can still be used to harass and move homeless people from streets and public places, but preventing the addition of another measure that more clearly and unambiguously criminalizes the activities of people who are homeless should be regarded an unqualified success.

Many thanks and congratulations to all who contributed to this effort. We look forward to the final approval of Toronto’s amended Streets by-law–free of the anti-camping clause–in the coming months.