Quebec has not offered anything to relocate homeless people under the Ville-Marie highway
The camp under the Ville-Marie highway.
The Quebec government has offered no concrete proposals since its first eviction notice last November to rehouse homeless people camping under the Ville-Marie highway. However, Quebec was committed to trying to find solutions before dismantling the camp to undertake major work.
The Mobile Legal Clinic is asking for a court order to postpone the eviction of the campers by the Ministère des Transports (MTQ) until July 15, 2023. The parties again found themselves in court on Monday, discussions to reach an agreement s’ proved to be unsuccessful.
“What concrete steps have been taken to prevent [the campers] from finding themselves today faced with the imminence of being ousted manu militari?” asked Me Éric Préfontaine, who represented the Mobile Legal Clinic, during the hearing. The lawyer for Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt recalled that the government announced a stay of dismantling in November to try to find a long-term solution for those evicted.
“The ministry never undertook to relocate them,” argued the lawyer for the Attorney General of Quebec, Me Nancy Brûlé. “We are in a voluntary process. To the extent that they do not want [to be helped], it is difficult to do something, ”she told Superior Court judge Chantal Masse. Judge Masse said she was “speechless” at the passivity of the CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, inviting the government to be more “proactive”
The CIUSSS has been in contact with the campers for several years, assured the government lawyer. However, “these people, for various reasons that belong to them, have not established a relationship of trust with the CIUSSS.”
In the absence of a court order, the camp, located near Guy Street and Atwater Avenue, will be dismantled by the police on April 12 or 15.
A dismantling with “absolutely-devastating” effects
“The worst solution is to do nothing. The least worst of the solutions is to delay the eviction so that it takes place under conditions that are minimally acceptable”, launched Me Préfontaine.
The lawyer underlined the “extreme conditions” in which the campers lived, recalling that the mercury was around -10o C last night. “They basically have a roof over their head, and that's the Ville-Marie highway,” he said. If we deport them […] where can they relocate?”
These are people who don't have much […]. One of the only things they have is their community and the benefits it brings them.
Me Éric Préfontaine, lawyer at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, representing the Traveling Legal Clinic
Me Anabel Semerdzhieva, who also represents the plaintiffs, pointed out to the court the social and administrative obstacles faced by homeless people when it comes time to find permanent housing or even a bed in a shelter. “They face systems of exclusion that overlap each other, she lamented. They are caught in a vicious circle that makes them invisible.”
There are only 1,600 beds available in shelters in Montreal, said the lawyer. Far too few to house the 3,149 homeless people in Montreal, according to a count carried out in 2018.
In addition, the campers, “extremely vulnerable”, can help each other, recalled Me Anabel Semerdzhieva. Some people have lived there for several years. A resident who has lived there for 10 years acts as a “protector” by helping others with food, managing their drug and alcohol use and assisting them in emergencies, she said. Kits of Naxolone, an antidote to fentanyl, are also available on site, she alleged.
Dismantling without taking charge of the campers would have “absolutely devastating effects”, according to Ms. Semerdzhieva.< /p>
Necessary and urgent work, according to the MTQ
“Their stories are very sad,” admitted Me Brûlé. “The fact remains that these people occupy land without rights,” she continued, recalling that the MTQ owns the land on which the camp is located.
The work that will be undertaken in the refurbishment of the Turcot interchange will last approximately three years. The pillars of the Ville-Marie Expressway, including those where the campers live, need to be repaired to “ensure structural capacity,” she said.
The ministry must ensure that the roads are safe. That the infrastructures are safe.
Me Nancy Brûlé, lawyer for the Attorney General of Quebec
The cohabitation between the construction site and the itinerant people is impossible, says the lawyer. Fire at the camp, cut fence, movement of intoxicated people next to the site, two people asleep in the equipment: the contractor who carried out the pre-work would have reported various dangerous situations, she explains. Cohabitation would also extend the duration of the work, in his words.
“The work must be done, and it must start at some point,” added Me Marie Couture-Clouâtre, who also represents the MTQ. “The longer it delays, the more potential risks there are.” A delay also complicates coordination with the City of Montreal to ensure traffic, said Me Brûlé.
Judge Chantal Masse has repeatedly invited the parties to discuss to find a “quick” and “ practice” outside the judicial framework.
Granting a grace period before dismantling will not allow campers to avoid harm, only to delay it, she recalled . These can also return after being ousted, she added. “My decision, whatever it is, will not settle the situation definitively.”
The hearing will continue tomorrow, at the Montreal courthouse.