The Government of Quebec has not proposed any concrete measure to relocate about fifteen homeless people who are camping under the Ville-Marie highway, in downtown Montreal, as it promised to do two weeks ago in front of the court, lamented the campers’ lawyer, Monday, at the Montreal courthouse.
“There seems to be a will in theory, but no proposal or solution has been put forward” by the CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, mandated by the Ministry of Transport ( MTQ), revealed Me Éric Préfontaine, who represents the campers in their proceedings before the courts to avoid their expulsion from the land they have occupied for several years.
The lack of steps taken by CIUSSS workers to offer help to these homeless people also surprised Judge Chantal Masse of the Superior Court.
The lawyer for the Attorney General of Quebec, Me Nancy Brûlé, highlighted the words of a CIUSSS worker, who mentioned in an affidavit that she could only act for people who ask for help voluntarily. “As long as these people don’t come to her, she doesn’t interfere,” she explained.
“I am speechless,” responded Judge Masse. “With all the difficulties they have, these people are not necessarily going to seek help. Does that mean the practitioner is sitting in her office and waiting? We need to have a more pro-active attitude. You have to go find them. Yes, it takes their collaboration, but there are organizations with whom you should agree to find solutions. »
Among the fifteen campers, many have physical and mental health problems, others have addictions to drugs or alcohol. Some are in a relationship or have animals, which prevents them from having access to emergency shelters for the homeless.
In their statements, presented to the court, the employees of the CIUSSS indicate that they have not met with the campers, despite the commitment made by the government to work to find them accommodation that meets their needs.
Worse: since the camp moved further back from Atwater Street, under the Ville-Marie highway, CIUSSS staff no longer go there, as a safety measure for employees.
The campers, represented by the Traveling Legal Clinic, challenged in Superior Court their eviction, announced by the MTQ, which must carry out work at the place where they are installed. A first eviction notice was served on them last November, but the government backed down at the last minute to give them time to find a place to relocate. Then, at the beginning of March, they were told that they had to leave before March 31, when the work began.
Their request for an injunction calls for a delay of until July 15 so that they have time to find a new place to stay. Me Nancy Brûlé indicated Monday that, due to legal proceedings, the work would not begin before April 12 or 15, but that delaying it beyond this date would have significant consequences on the schedule. Judge Masse suggested that the start of the work be postponed to mid-May.
To relocate the group of campers in the long term, the organization Résilience Montréal, whose day shelter, located not far from the camp, offers hot meals and other services, has proposed an action plan of 2.6 million over five years. This plan includes the salaries of workers to accompany them, their immediate installation at the hotel, the time to find permanent accommodation that suits them, and all the other costs related to their move and their daily life. This request was refused by government officials.
The lawyer for the homeless argued that postponing their eviction until July would give them time to find a solution to relocate or, at worst, to pitch their tent elsewhere, when the weather will be milder.
“Currently, where can they go? Where can they relocate minimally decently? asked Me Préfontaine. “Currently they are in the cold, but at least they are sheltered from the weather. It’s the big misery! They have nothing, these people, except a tent and a highway over their heads! What the MTQ wants to do is deprive them of the little they have without offering them the minimum to be able to relocate elsewhere. »
“Their eviction would potentially impact the health, safety and dignity of camp residents. »
Judge Chantal Masse also put forward the fact that, to have the campers evicted from her land by the police, the MTQ would first have to obtain an eviction order from the court, which was not done. until now. “I am amazed that we allow ourselves to not follow the processes provided for by law,” she said. Maybe it’s because of the clientele it’s about? »
The pleadings of the lawyers of the Attorney General continue Tuesday morning, after which the judge will have to render her decision.