Canada: Evicted Ottawa residents file human rights complaint

Somali and Arab complainants say displacement from Heron Gate was result of 'systemic discrimination'.

    Fourteen former residents of Heron Gate have filed a human rights complaint that their evictions late last year were the result of 'systemic discrimination' [File: Jillian Kestler-D'Amours/Al Jazeera]
    Fourteen former residents of Heron Gate have filed a human rights complaint that their evictions late last year were the result of 'systemic discrimination' [File: Jillian Kestler-D'Amours/Al Jazeera]

    Canada - More than a dozen former residents of a community in Canada's capital have filed a human rights complaint that their evictions late last year were the result of "systemic discrimination".

    Fourteen former residents of Heron Gate, one of Ottawa's most diverse communities, filed the complaint earlier this week to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, which adjudicates on alleged human rights code violations.

    "The mass, forced displacement of an entire community of immigrants, people of colour, families, and people receiving public assistance amounts to systemic discrimination," the complaint reads.

    Specifically, they said the evictions violated articles of the Ontario Human Rights Code, such as Article 2, which states that "every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to the occupancy of accommodation, without discrimination".

    The complainants - 13 of whom are of Somali background and one who is ethnically Arab - were evicted from Heron Gate between May and November 2018, the filing states.

    They are among some 100 families who were forced to leave their homes in the community last year, after the landlord, a company called Timbercreek Communities, announced plans to demolish about 150 units it said were no longer liveable. 

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    'Largest forced displacement'

    Located in the south end of Ottawa, Heron Gate comprises of a mix of townhouses, medium-sized buildings and tall apartment towers.

    At the time of the evictions, a local tenants' rights group said Canadians were witnessing the "largest forced displacement" in the country's recent history.

    But Timbercreek has insisted it followed the law in carrying out the evictions, giving tenants 120 days to find alternative housing.

    It also gave residents three-months' rent and additional compensation, as well as help with moving.

    "Timbercreek is going beyond the requirements of the law in providing relocation assistance," the company told Al Jazeera in a statement in August.

    However, residents told Al Jazeera at that time that being forced to leave Heron Gate would be devastating on their social support networks.

    Many also said they struggled to find alternative housing options amid sky-rocketing rental costs and a lack of affordable rental units in Ottawa.

    Seeking damages

    In their Ontario Human Rights Tribunal filing, the evicted former residents also accused Timbercreek's redevelopment plan for Heron Gate of violating international law.

    "Displacing existing residents, particularly those who are low-income and members of groups experiencing discrimination, for the purposes of redevelopment, is only permitted if existing residents are fully consulted about development plans, and if those plans avoid permanent displacement of residents," they said. 

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    The complainants also accused the City of Ottawa of being "complicit" in the discrimination they faced. They are seeking $50,000 each in damages and to be allowed to return to similarly sized and priced units when the redevelopment is completed.

    They also want the tribunal to declare that the evictions infringed upon their right to housing without discrimination.

    A spokesperson for Timbercreek said in an emailed statement that the company was aware of the complaint and "are not currently in a position to comment further". 

    The City of Ottawa did not respond to Al Jazeera's request for comment at the time of publication. City officials told local media that the city does not comment on ongoing cases.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News