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Protesters block attempts to enforce daytime sheltering ban in Kingston's parks

A City of Kingston vehicle turns around as protesters deny crews access to an encampment at Belle Park on Wednesday. (Dan Taekema/CBC - image credit)
A City of Kingston vehicle turns around as protesters deny crews access to an encampment at Belle Park on Wednesday. (Dan Taekema/CBC - image credit)

For the second straight day, city crews attempting to enforce a bylaw barring daytime sheltering in parks have been kept from Kingston's largest encampment by protestors using logs and banners to block them.

The first standoff happened Wednesday morning when eight city vehicles pulled up to the back gate of Belle Park, only to be met by a group who used fencing and heavy pieces of wood to physically block the entrance.

A similar stalemate occurred Thursday when a smaller number of city vehicles approached from another path, according to Ivan Stoiljkovic, who was among the protesters.

As long as they're threatening to attack the encampment, we'll be here defending it. - Ivan Stoiljkovic, Katarokwi Union of Tenants

"We have logs up, we have banners, we have people," he said in a phone interview. "They showed up and we told them that we're not going to let them come through."

Stoiljkovic is with the Katarokwi Union of Tenants, which advocates for both renters and unhoused people. He vowed the demonstrations will continue.

"We're gonna continue to show up. As long as they're threatening to attack the encampment, we'll be here defending it."

Paige Agnew, Kingston's commissioner of growth and development services, confirmed city crews were unable to access the site, describing what confronted them as a "physical blockade."

"We were are going to continue to be going back to the site each day and trying to do the work that has been going on for months," she said during a media update Thursday.

City looking for a 'breakthrough'

Agnew said the city's focus remains on obtaining compliance with the bylaw, adding the goal is for people to voluntarily pack up their belongings and leave each day.

"Hopefully, with persistent effort, there will be the ability for us to have a breakthrough," she said.

Agnew said the city doesn't want to see the situation escalate, but pointed to "heated reactions" from advocates toward staff in recent days.

"We're not looking to to get into any type of conflict," she said.

Kingston Police officers speak with protesters at the Belle Park encampment on April 3, 2024. The city said it planned to being enforcing a daytime ban on sheltering in parks, but its crews were blocked by demonstrators.
Kingston Police officers speak with protesters at the Belle Park encampment on April 3, 2024. The city said it planned to being enforcing a daytime ban on sheltering in parks, but its crews were blocked by demonstrators.

Kingston Police officers speak with protesters at the Belle Park encampment on Wednesday. The city said it planned to begin enforcing a daytime ban on sheltering in parks, but crews were blocked by demonstrators. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

While it's true "some words were said" to city staff, Stoiljkovic said that shouldn't come as a surprise.

"Of course people are going to be mad when somebody comes in and tells them they're going to tear the house down," he said.

Stoiljkovic said the money the city's spending on enforcing the bylaw should instead be spent housing people.

Traffic light turned on

Notices posted on tents this week warned inhabitants that starting Wednesday, temporary shelters must be erected no earlier than one hour before sunset and dismantled no later than one hour after sunrise.

The action follows a court decision that found the city's ban on overnight sheltering was unconstitutional. However, the judge in the case included an exception allowing people who are homeless to erect shelters in parks, but only overnight.

According to the notices that went up this week, Kingston Police have been given the authority to act on the city's behalf if people don't comply.

"No further warning will be given," the notices read.

There's another change at Belle Park: A traffic light that shines green when people are permitted to shelter there and red when they aren't has now been activated.

In a statement, a city spokesperson said encampment residents were surveyed about the signal and more than 50 per cent said it would be helpful, though one person previously told CBC the signal made them feel like "cattle."

A Utilities Kingston worker activates a traffic signal near Belle Park on April 3, 2023. The city says it's meant as a visual aid to notify encampment residents when they can and cannot erect shelters.
A Utilities Kingston worker activates a traffic signal near Belle Park on April 3, 2023. The city says it's meant as a visual aid to notify encampment residents when they can and cannot erect shelters.

A Utilities Kingston worker activates a traffic signal near Belle Park on Wednesday. The city says it's meant as a visual aid to notify encampment residents when they may and may not erect shelters. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Agnew told reporters Wednesday that the city's latest count indicated roughly 28 people are living in the encampment.

She added staff are focused on transitioning people staying in more permanent shelters, including makeshift cabins, into shelter beds or tents they can dismantle each day to comply with the bylaw.

'Moving, moving, moving'

The commissioner said she believes Kingston has enough shelter beds to accommodate everyone, and pointed to options people can access during the day.

Tired of all the uncertainty, some encampment residents have decided to move out.

Ryan Price said he's lived in Belle Park for more than three years. He's currently staying in a large green tent with his girlfriend.

Ryan Price sits in his tent at the Belle Park encampment. He said he's lived there for more than three years, but was packing up on April 3, following news the city intends to enforce it's bylaw barring daytime sheltering.
Ryan Price sits in his tent at the Belle Park encampment. He said he's lived there for more than three years, but was packing up on April 3, following news the city intends to enforce it's bylaw barring daytime sheltering.

Ryan Price sits in his tent at the Belle Park encampment Wednesday. He said he's lived there for more than three years, but on April 3 was packing up following news the city intends to enforce its bylaw barring daytime sheltering. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

But Price said they're leaving, summarizing the situation as "exhausting."

"We're constantly moving, moving, moving," he said Wednesday as he packed garbage bags with belongings and swept the tent's floor, which was built of pallets and plywood.

Price said he doesn't see how clearing the encampment during the day changes anything.

"They can force us to move, but I mean, we'll just [do] what we did before, probably just move our tent to a different spot," he said.