We Continue to Monitor the BIA in the Park and surrounding area
St. James Park is an important public park in the Downtown East End that many homeless people use. This summer, the St. Lawrence Market Business Improvement Area (BIA) hired a private security company to patrol the park and neighbourhood. Unsurprisingly, a pattern of intimidation and harassment of poor and homeless people in the area at the hands of security became clear. Along with homeless people who use the park, OCAP fought back – we publicly exposed the BIA’s illegal patrolling of the public park, informed park users about their rights, got the city involved, and warned the BIA that unless they stop, we would start picketing businesses in the area. Amidst increasing pressure, the BIA announced last weekend that it would cancel its 6-day a week security patrol of the park except on days they have events.
However, security hasn’t been to the park at all this week and it seems that we have successfully gotten the guard out of the park. We will, however, continue to monitor St. James Park and the surrounding area – not only for security guards but also for BIA staff who have threatened, harassed and ‘banned’ people.
The BIA has claimed that they needed to put in private security to deal with problematic behavior in the park. However, from what we have seen and what people have told us, it is only poor and homeless people that have been policed by this security guard. The BIA has, in fact, criminalized an entire community because of a few specific instances over the past several years.
For example, one of the concerns that the BIA has is with people drinking in the park. When the security guard found people drinking he would hassle them. Some people told us he would take and dump their beer; because he didn’t have the legal authority to patrol the park this was theft. However, the BIA clearly only cares about certain people drinking as people setting up and musicians performing at the BIA event, who can be seen drinking alcohol openly don’t get hassled.
On July 13, OCAP got a phone call from Neil Mcllen, a homeless man who was being harassed by the security guard in the park. The guard was telling him he had to leave the gazebo even though it was raining and there was no other shelter in the area. The guard tried to intimidate him, put on his gloves over Neil and told him he was going to call the cops. After talking to Neil, we began investigating what was going on in the park. We spoke to many people who told us that the security guard was in the park most days, that he hassled, harassed and intimidated people on a regular basis. He was known to tell people they weren’t allowed to sleep in the park, sit on certain benches and to ‘ban’ people from the park. People had also seen him chase people out of the park.
OCAP made a know your rights poster and we saw a BIA staffer rip them down. The security guard also took posters away from a homeless woman who was going to hand them out to people (this, too, is theft).
After the BIA refused to respond to our letter and phone call and refused to stop patrolling the park after both the parks department and Councilor McConnell’s office told them to stop, we decided the only way to get the BIA to stop was through public action. We made a video about what was going on in the park, went to the media and put the BIA on notice that we would take direct action if the harassment didn’t stop. While we consider this an important victory for homeless people in the St. Lawrence Market Neighbourhood and a deterrent for all BIAs in the city, we will continue to monitor the situation. If any BIA staff or hired security hassle poor or homeless people in the park or surrounding neighbourhood, we will take action against the businesses in the neighbourhood. We will defend the poor and, as always, fight to win!