Outreach workers in Sudbury are shocked two local branches of the Royal Canadian Legion applied to have the growing homeless encampment in Memorial Park dismantled entirely so they can host a Remembrance Day ceremony.
Jennifer Huard, president of Legion Branch 564, Lockerby, told Sudbury.com that to her understanding, the clearing of the entire park had been authorized by the City of Greater Sudbury, with support from Public Health Sudbury and District as well as the Greater Sudbury Police.
However, a city spokesperson said that is not the case, and there has been a “miscommunication.”
Denis Constantineau, executive director of the Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury, lead organization of the homelessness network, said he received information from the city regarding the Legion’s announcement, stating that the Legion was incorrect in their belief that the park would be cleared entirely.
Though the Legion has requested the park be cleared, the city said only abandoned structures will be removed and a general cleanup would take place.
Royal Canadian Legion Branches 564, Lockerby, and Branch 76, Dr. Fred Starr, said in an October 25 press release that the Memorial Park encampment would be cleared so they could host a Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph and memorial wall for the first time since 1985.
In a media release, Jennifer Huard, president of The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 564 Lockerby, announced that the 2021 Civic Remembrance ceremony would be carried out live at Memorial Park on November 11, beginning at 10:35 a.m.
The press release also outlines the history of the Memorial Park Cenotaph as well as the ceremony itself, and notes this is the first time the ceremony will be held at the Cenotaph since 1985, (the event is normally held at the Sudbury Arena, although last year it was held at individual Legion branches due to the pandemic).
“The organizing committee has been working closely with the City of Greater Sudbury, Public Health Sudbury District, and the Greater Sudbury Police Service,” reads the Legion press release. It also states the importance of the health and safety of all participants, and that as their “overriding priority.”
“With this in mind,” states the release, “rest assured that the encampment at Memorial Park will be dismantled and cleaned up prior to the service and security enforcement officers will be on site.”
But the idea that the encampment will be entirely dismantled is a miscommunication, said the City of Greater Sudbury.
On this issue, the city denied Sudbury.com’s interview request. Maggie Frampton of the city communications department instead issued a written statement.
“For health and safety reasons, we are respectfully evaluating abandoned structures and belongings,” Frampton said.
“We will be cleaning up any garbage to help improve the safety of everyone living in the park. “This does not mean forcible removal or displacing of individuals and their belongings. A general clean up and clearing of the area near the ceremony site is a priority as we approach Remembrance Day. This is a public event that everyone is welcome to attend the ceremony.”
Sudbury.com spoke to Huard after the city issued their written statement; she maintains it was her understanding that the park was to be cleared entirely, for the few hours of the service.
“Our request was to have the entire park cleaned out, and I included in my special events application form an actual map that comes right from Google Maps,” said Huard. She told Sudbury.com that her application has the whole park marked off to ensure COVID protocols are met.
“We had to do a calculation in terms of the square meters and how many people we could hold safely to ensure we were within the COVID-19 guidelines,” said Huard.
She said there is no way to simply remove abandoned structures, as there are some in use directly in front of the area they wish to use for their PA system.
Huard said there are approximately 1,500 to 2,000 people expected at the ceremony, including provincial and federal dignitaries, and that a partial removal will not suffice. She said that the communications department at the city is “misinformed.”
However, after again confirming with the city, Frampton issued another statement: “City staff will be reaching out to the Legion to clarify any potential miscommunications that may have occurred.”
Huard remains undeterred. She told Sudbury.com this is important to the veterans involved with the Legion, and in particular, it is important to be outside.
She notes that there are not many Second World War veterans still attending services — protection of elderly attendees being the reason the ceremonies went indoor in 1985 — and that being outside is a reminder of what it is actually like to serve overseas.
“The Afghanistan veterans are really struggling, and they would like to come together outdoors, and be with their fellow comrades-in-arms,” said Huard. “They feel that if we really want to remember, we need to be outside, regardless of the elements. Because that's how we're going to really get a sense of what the veterans went through when they were in war in the trenches. And to them, that means a lot.”
Huard said she submitted her special events permit “two to three weeks ago” and had her proposal approved with no changes. She told Sudbury.com her proposal was clear about the need to dismantle the encampment entirely.
But dismantling the encampment could cause a rise in violence and overdoses amongst those who are without housing at the moment, say Sudbury outreach workers.
As well, it goes directly against the advice of the homelessness consultant recently hired by the city to create a guide to solving the issue in the city.
Iain De Jong told Sudbury.com that the move “would put a wrench in the guide and approach outlined and present some significant challenges.”
Denis Constantineau, executive director of the Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury, said that he agrees the Remembrance Day ceremony is an important community event, but that the people in the Memorial Park encampment have nowhere to go.
“Just sweeping them away to make room for remembrance, for the ceremony, to me goes contrary to the whole notion of Remembrance Day, and the idea of what people fought for,” Constantineau told Sudbury.com.
“That's not the kind of community we want, where we just brush away people that don't meet our standards are some things that are unsightly, because we want to have a ceremony. So I think those two things are polar opposites.”
He said the people in the encampment are very respectful, “doing the best they can,” and attempting to keep the area clean.
Constantineau said he has no problem believing that there would be a willing co-operation from those in the encampment to allow the ceremony to take place undisturbed.
As well, Constantineau said the removal of people from the park does not solve the problem of homelessness, only moves it, and causes issues for outreach workers trying to find clients to offer service. That, and when the encampments are dismantled, homeless network staff report an increase in violence.
Karla Ghartey, professor of nursing at Cambrian College and founding member Sudbury Temporary Overdose Prevention Society (STOPS), as well as Evie Ali of the Go-Give Project, a local outreach team, agree that each time the encampments are dismantled, there’s a surge in violence amongst the population downtown, as well as an increase in overdoses; they also say the hopelessness and low moral created can pose ongoing issues like refusal of services and even suicidal ideations.
But it is called Memorial Park for a reason, said Huard.
“This is a few hours of the day on Remembrance Day in a park that is dedicated to our veterans,” she said. “This is Memorial Veterans Memorial Park, where the Veterans Memorial Wall is, the Veterans Cenotaph, and it is on Veterans Way. The veterans are asking for a few hours of the day in honor of remembering.”
Huard told Sudbury.com she will continue as planned.
“I submitted a proposal. All of the parties met. They didn't identify any issues with my proposal whatsoever,” said Huard. “I was told that it was approved, and we're proceeding as such. All of the parties that are coming, from federal dignitaries, provincial dignitaries, municipal dignitaries, the Greater Sudbury Police Chief will be in attendance, approximately 1,500 to 2,000 people. And that was all in my application.”