Victory: OCAP Forces Private Security Out of St. James Park

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!

Back-Off BIA: Private Policing of Public Space Won’t be Tolerated

BIA security with Bob Kemp, “Streetscape Coordinator” for the BIA, in St.James Park

Watch the Video | Download Know Your Rights Poster
In the Media: CBC | City TV

The St.Lawrence Market Business Improvement Area (the BIA) has hired private security that patrols the neighbourhood, and has become notorious for harassing poor and homeless users of St. James Park. The security guard ‘bans’ people from the area, enforces made-up rules (no sleeping in the park) and has become a symbol of fear, which is precisely the intent.

We learned about the situation mid-July from a currently homeless park user, Neil Mclellan, who called us while he was being threatened and illegally kicked off from the park gazebo by the guard. We notified the city, called the BIA and sent them a written letter to cease and desist from these practices. When the harassment continued, we issued a poster informing park users of their rights.

Instead of laying off, the BIA escalated the situation. They started confiscating posters OCAP had distributed to park users (which is theft) and threatened Neil with physical violence. Despite being told by the city to cease having security patrol the park, and interact with park users outside of the hours stipulated on their permit, the BIA continued with the status quo this Thursday.

So we are now releasing this statement and video publicly, with a warning to the BIA – back off and stop the illegal private policing of the park and the surrounding area, and the harassment of poor people. If you don’t immediately put an end to these illegal practices, we will start picketing all your member businesses, starting with the ones owned by your board of directors.

BBQ & Rally for Shelters & Housing


Saturday, August 19 | 12 noon | Allan Gardens, Sherbourne & Carlton
Free Food | Kids Welcome | Music | Facebook Event

The city tells us that emergency shelters aren’t the solution to homelessness and the escalating rates of homeless deaths, housing is. So shelters are kept underfunded and overcrowded. At the same time, the city is boarding up hundreds of public (Toronto Community Housing Corporation) housing units, at a time when the demand for them far outstrips supply. Thousands of families are facing displacement and thousands more languish on the subsidized housing waiting-list with wait-times that now stretch over a decade. Meanwhile market rents continue their upward spiral and upscale redevelopment projects continue pushing poor people out of the downtown core.

We intend to build a formidable fight capable of facing off against these marauding housing profiteers and their lackeys in government. These neighbourhoods are ours and we refuse to be pushed, priced or policed out! We demand the following:

  • Open 1000 new emergency shelter beds.
  • Stop the ongoing closure of TCHC units.
  • Protect the city’s stock of rooming houses.
  • Build decent, accessible, and affordable public housing now.

This summer has been an especially difficult one, we’ve lost a lot of people. Their lives have been lost not only to homelessness, but also to senseless policies of the so-called ‘war on drugs.’ So we come together, in the spirit of what Mother Jones once said, to mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living. Join us.

Changes to the HSF : Open Letter to the City Signed by 21 Organizations


Many of you have been a part of the struggle to change the discriminatory policies underlying the Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF). To-date we have written two reports (accessible here and here) documenting in detail the issues with the HSF and its management. The outrage sparked by Laura Bardeau‘s case and the subsequent mobilization led to series of changes being announced by the City in December last year. Some of these changes were implemented immediately, such as the abandoning of the discriminatory eligibility formula, whereas others, we were promised, would be designed in consultation with us and other community advocates and legal clinics.

The consultation did not happen and instead TESS merely notified us, by way of a poorly organized ‘information session’ on June 28, of the changes it had already designed and which would go into effect a mere 3 business days later (on July 4). Now a coalition of 18 organizations, OCAP included, have penned an open letter to the Mayor and members of the Community Development and Recreation Committee outlining the issues with the changes and the resolutions we are seeking. The letter appears below.

OCAP has also prepared our own assessment of all the changes to the HSF. You can download it here.
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What it Shows and What it Misses

The Toronto Ombudsman’s report opens by acknowledging that its enquiry was prompted by a CBC interview with Cathy Crowe, ‘a well known social activist and street nurse about Toronto’s cold weather response for people who are homeless.’ The interview dealt with inadequate levels of shelter provision and looked at the need for the federal armouries to be opened in order to respond to this. Given that the media interview that prompted the enquiry raised issues around the inadequacy of the overall shelter system, it’s curious that the Ombudsman chose to limit deliberations to the back-up cold weather drop-ins. In fact, it’s actually rather worrying that this choice was made because it happens to be a rather useful one for Shelter Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) officialdom and the agenda they are pursuing.
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New Report: Toronto Robs from the Poor

Toronto Robs from Poor Cover for web
Download the Report | Media Coverage: CTV, CP24,Toronto Star 
[High-Res Print Version] | Our article in the NOW

This morning we launched Toronto Robs from the Poor: The Misuse of the Housing Stabilization Fund. The report documents how the city has siphoned away or otherwise withheld nearly $18 million dollars from programs tackling homelessness over the last four years – all during an escalating crisis of homelessness and the shelter system.

Pay it Back: Post Sleep Out Delegation to City Hall

Tuesday, April 25 | 10:30am | Toronto City Hall (Bay/Queen)
Meet by giant ‘Toronto’ sign in the square

Join us on Tuesday to deliver the Toronto Robs from the Poor report to Mayor John Tory. In addition to revealing how the city has siphoned away or otherwise withheld $18 million dollars from homelessness programs, the report also documents a troubling pattern of misreporting by the City. We will demand that the money diverted away from homelessness programs be returned immediately and be used to provide much needed respite to the homeless.

The stakes for people on the streets are high, one homeless person is dying every 10 days. Tory’s response to the crisis has been appalling and the threadbare denials and excuses that he and his administrators have put forward convince no serious observer. It’s clear that unless public pressure forces them to do otherwise, they will continue to serve the needs of austerity and upscale redevelopment.

That’s why over 200 people gathered outside the ‘Tower of Power,’ the Mayor’s multi-million dollar residence, this past Saturday to bring the crisis of homelessness to his door-step. Many slept out there through the night. It has been made clear to the Mayor that unless the very basic demands that have been put forward to tackle the homeless crisis are met, we will continue to escalate the fight. Contrary to the position that the city lacks resources to meet these demands, the report we will deliver on Tuesday makes clear that the City has immediate access to at least $18 million it can use to address the crisis.

Join us on Tuesday to take the fight forward.

Note: Our delegation clashes with another action called by the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, a group we are in allied with. Since our delegation will conclude before their action does, we encourage you to attend that action afterwards.