In October, the City of Toronto announced they would be closing the Novotel hotel shelter at the end of December, a temporary shelter that was opened to respond to safe housing during the pandemic. At the time, Gord Tanner, the general manager of Toronto’s Shelter Support and Housing Administration, promised residents they would receive an individualized relocation plan. However, for many residents, no such plans have existed. On 21 November 2022, a resident refused her relocation as it did not satisfy her needs. In response, Homes First staff, a private charity contracted to operate the Novotel Shelter, called the police. Subsequently, Toronto Police entered her room, handcuffed her, carried her out to a police car, and then drove her to another shelter without her consent.
In response, on 28 November 2022, over 30 unhoused and housed people occupied the Novotel Hotel Shelter in Toronto, Ontario, while many more rallied outside to demand:
- An end to police evictions
- Individualized housing plans
- The right to refuse relocations
- An end to the two-bag limit in shelters
- Financial compensation for resident belongings that have been disposed
This occupation follows a phone zap coordinated by housed and unhoused people to express concern to Gord Tanner and Homes First and a rally outside of Gord Tanner’s office. While Tanner met with two residents, his response remained hollow, lying to residents about his commitments to individualized relocation plans.
As residents of the Novotel Shelter and housed allies occupied the Novotel lobby, they once again reiterated their demands while imploring Gord Tanner and Patricia Mueller (the Executive Director of Homes First) to come down and listen. Instead, Homes First called the police. Police raided the lobby and violently dragged people out onto the sidewalk. The rally continued outside as police continued to harass protesters.
In subsequent media posts, the Toronto Police reported, “Shelter staff confirmed the demonstrators were not residents and asked them to leave. Some complied, while others refused and were escorted off the premises by police. There were no arrests or injuries reported and the crowd dispersed.”
This statement from Homes First Staff and the Toronto Police is blatantly untrue. A representative of Community Peacemaker Teams was in attendance at the protest. According to CPT, there were at least 19 unhoused people at the protest demanding their rights. Of those 19 participants, at least 15 were current or former residents of the Novotel Hotel Shelter. CPT has also received documented evidence of bruises on the protesters from being dragged out onto the street. And while no arrests were made at the protest itself, one unhoused protester was arrested later that night at the Novotel Shelter.
CPT condemns Homes First and the Toronto Police in their collaboration to evict residents of the Novotel onto the street. We also condemn their collusion in lying to the media about the facts that took place on 28 November 2022, as a way to discredit the legitimate actions taken by both housed and unhoused people to ensure a life of dignity and justice.
CPT is an international peace and human rights organization working to decolonize our communities by advocating and organizing alongside those waging nonviolent direct action to confront systems of violence and oppression. Colonial violence takes many forms, from settler-colonial occupations in Palestine and Kurdistan to colonial powers at ‘home,’ subjugating poor and unhoused communities to capitalist and class violence.