Homeless person sitting on the curb.

Earlier this year, the Superior Court of Justice issued a decision stopping the City of Waterloo from evicting residents of an outdoor encampment, concluding that doing so would violate their Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person. In this three-part blog series, we explain: (i) the background to the case and the real-life dire realities shared by some of the encampment residents; (ii) Justice Valente’s unprecedented decision and his legal reasoning; and (iii) and why some homelessness advocates are describing it as a “complicated victory”.


Part I: Evidence of a Dire Reality

Homelessness is a growing issue. The City of Waterloo estimated that more than 1,000 people did not have a place to live in 2021. As a result, several encampments have been erected over the past couple of years, including one on a City-owned vacant lot. In 2022, the City brought a lawsuit to evict the encampment residents — removing their shelters and belongings — because they were allegedly violating a municipal by-law.

The encampment community in question is made up of 50+ individual men and women, couples, members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, Indigenous people, members of racialized communities, as well as persons suffering from disabilities and substance abuse and domestic abuse survivors. Several of the residents shared their personal histories and experiences with Justice Valente (the judge hearing the case), including Jennifer Draper and Sean Simpell.

Jennifer testified that she is an Indigenous woman who is disconnected from her community. She is a drug user, and suffers from depression, anxiety and a panic disorder. Before arriving at the encampment, Jennifer had rented a home for herself and her 3 children, but when she lost her job, her family was evicted and the children were apprehended by family and children services. She subsequently stayed at various shelters, where was assaulted and robbed many times. If she left the shelter in the evening, shelter staff threatened to give her bed away. Should Jennifer be evicted from the encampment, she plans to sleep on the streets or in the bush?

  • Sean testified that he suffers from drug addiction. He has been homeless since he was released from jail in June 2020. Prior to coming to the encampment, he bounced between a trailer, a Cambridge encampment, and a few shelters. As a drug user, Sean found it difficult to be around other people in the shelter who were very judgmental. Unlike the shelters, where he was the subject of ridicule, at the encampment: “we respect each other, we consider each other family and we don’t touch each other’s stuff. I have privacy here and no one steals from me.” If forced to leave the encampment, he fears that he will lose everything: “It is my greatest fear. This encampment may seem like garbage to some people, but to the people living there, it’s everything.”

Justice Valente describes several other of the residents’ histories and experiences. If you are interested in reading the decision, a link is here. Take a look at paragraphs 23 and 71 in particular.

In our next post, we will explore how Justice Valente evaluated the law and weighed the evidence in coming to the conclusion that the City’s eviction violates the residents’ Charter rights.


By Grace McKeown, Guest Contributor

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