Civil rights activists are suing Edmonton over its inhumane encampment policies. Here’s why city council should throw the case

Civil rights activists in Edmonton have launched a lawsuit to stop the city from evicting encampments of unhoused people when the city knows they have nowhere to go.  Officially, the city says it will vigorously fight for the right to continue brutalizing the homeless, stealing and destroying their property, and putting their lives and safety at risk. But morally, there is only one ethical choice for councillors and the mayor: the city needs to lose, and these thirteen politicians need to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Edmonton City Hall lit up at night. From the city's flickr stream

I’ve been documenting and reporting on encampment clearings in Edmonton for a while now and every time I witness one the scene is as barbarous and inhumane as it is absurd. 

A phalanx of armed police and Tyvek-suited city workers descending on where someone lives, evicting them, seizing or destroying their property, only for that person to end up at a new encampment a couple of blocks down not only doesn’t help homeless people it actively harms them. 

A study published in May in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that encampment sweeps lead to substantial increases in overdose deaths, hospitalizations, life-threatening infections and many other detrimental impacts. 

The cycle of encampment-rousting is as pointless as it is cruel, but since the lawsuit was announced not a single Edmonton councillor or anyone from the mayor’s office has been willing to reply to our inquiries about it. Even councillor Michael Janz, often the leader on council when it comes to standing up for the folks living rough, is keeping quiet. When I managed to corner mayor Sohi at Edmonton’s annual Labour Day BBQ he just threw his hands in the air, said he wasn’t a lawyer and walked away.

That sort of political cowardice is always undignified but in this context specifically it’s insane. Our representatives shouldn’t be hand-wringing about whether they might imperil the city’s case. They should be doing everything in their power to make sure the city loses. 

The status quo that these politicians are defending when they hide behind their “it’s before the courts” excuses is gruesome. The lawsuit’s statement of claim describes many of the violations being done in council’s, and Edmonton’s, name—people being evicted out onto the street during extreme cold warnings, people having their heaters and stoves stolen by city employees in -20 weather, city contractors being sent out to slash and destroy the tents of people who barely own anything else. 

If these politicians don’t act, every drug poisoning, every death to exposure, every frostbite amputation this winter will be something they’re complicit in. But the activists and the lawsuit are giving them an out. If the injunction against the city is successful, encampment evictions can stop and council will have the cover it needs to take real, bold action. 

There’s only one thing to do: it’s time to stand up and lose.  

Welcome our new staff reporter, Jeremy Appel

I’m very pleased to report that Jeremy Appel has joined the Progress Report as a part-time staff reporter. We’ve collaborated with Jeremy on some stories I’m very proud of, like our accounting of Brett Wilson’s orphan wells, a deep dive into the shady business dealings of ostensibly bankrupt oil and gas executives dumping orphan wells on the public and original investigative journalism on a corrupt train deal.

Jeremy’s debut piece with us as staff was just published yesterday as well. It’s an exclusive story on how the Calgary Police Service digitally frisked a prominent police critic in their database but can’t explain why they did it.


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