Saturday December 27, 2008

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALLAN GARDENS PROTESTERS LAWSUIT AGAINST CITY & POLICE ENDS IN VICTORY
All awards will be used for housing advocacy

PRESS CONFERENCE:
Monday December 29, 2008 at 12 pm (noon)
In front of Toronto City Hall, 100 Queen Street West

TORONTO – After 8 years of delayed justice, the City of Toronto and Toronto Police have paid a substantial settlement to three organizers of the Allan Gardens Project. The housing activists will be directing the entire sum of over $100,000 toward grassroots housing initiatives throughout the city.

The Allan Gardens Project was a peaceful protest that began in August 1999 after the police breakup of OCAP's Safe Park. It included students, homeless and other community members calling for public housing. For over 120 consecutive Friday nights at Allan Gardens Park, protesters decried the continuing housing crisis in Toronto as well as police brutality and harassment of the homeless. The sleep outs lasted over two years until November 2001. A violent crackdown by Toronto's emergency taskforce unit in October 2000 resulted in false charges that were later thrown out of court. Three anti-poverty activists (Elan Ohayon, Alex Brown, Oriel Varga) promised that such intimidation tactics would not cause them to back down and promptly launched a lawsuit against the City of Toronto and Toronto Police. Now, eight years later, only days before the court date, the city and police have finally been forced to pay a settlement, all of which will go toward housing initiatives.

The activists had planned to argue, in a two week court trial set for December 2008, that given the lack of safe affordable housing the homeless have the right to sleep out and set up shelter free of City and Police harassment. The activists were to be represented by renowned civil rights lawyers Peter Rosenthal and Vilko Zbogar and supported by anti-poverty experts Cathy Crowe, David Hulchanski, Stephan Hwang and Gaetan Heroux. One of the arguments to be heard in court was that a police crackdown on any shelter of a homeless person and their advocates, given the lack of housing and safe shelters, is a violation of Section 7 of the Charter - the right to life, liberty and security of person. The legal team, housing experts and community activists involved in the case will be present at the press conference.

Oriel Varga: "The duration of the process highlights the continued problems in Toronto housing and the Ontario justice system. Almost a decade after the community call for housing to be built and the many promises by city, provincial and federal governments, the building of affordable housing remains at a virtual standstill. The homeless and social justice activists continue to be harassed by the city and police. As a consequence of government inaction, homelessness continues to be a national disaster and there is an average of two deaths per week of homeless individuals in Toronto alone (according to estimates by the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee)."

With the repeated extreme cold weather alerts this December and with these difficult times, the urgent need for affordable public housing remains a Charter-based, life-threatening emergency. The three plaintiffs, including one who was homeless at the time, are dedicated forwarding the message that 1% percent of government budgets must go toward housing. The funds from this legal win will thus go entirely towards anti-poverty and housing initiatives that continue to put pressure on all levels of government to build public housing.

Join us at the press conference Monday, December 29, 2008 at Noon at Toronto City Hall to hear expert witnesses, the history of the Allan Garden's protest and full details of the settlement and trust fund.

Contacts for media interviews: Oriel Varga, (416) 832-7544

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