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On Thursday, February 21 a committee of Toronto City Council heard from numerous deputants regarding the critical loss of shelter beds and other basic services for homeless persons in the downtown.

Council opted to do nothing.

On Wednesday, February 27 a homeless Aboriginal man was found dead in an unheated stairwell in the downtown. It was the coldest night of the year with a wind chill of -27 Celsius. Another homeless man suffered serious injury from the cold on this same night.

This death and scores of others could have been prevented over the years, had Council acted to preserve emergency resources and put more effort into defending and adding to existing housing stock. Instead, they have willfully opted to do nothing – or worse, to systematically cut resources at a time when the need is more desperate than ever.

A memorial plaque outside the Church Of The Holy Trinity near Toronto's City Hall bears the names of more than five hundred other women, men and youth who have died needlessly on the streets of Toronto over the past twenty years – a list which is actually far from complete, but which nonetheless serves as a graphic testament to the willful negligence of Toronto City Council and all other levels of government. Not a month goes by where several new names aren’t added to this growing list.

This morning, with yet another winter storm looming, citizens gathered at City Hall with the intent of delivering a written statement to Council members as they held their monthly sitting. Close to fifty people gained access to Council chambers and part of the group began circulating among the seated members with copies of the statement.

Security acted swiftly, corralling people and pushing them back into the public gallery area as Council members beat a cowardly retreat to their upstairs lounge and the meeting was declared in recess.  People continued to shout angrily as an order was given to clear the Chambers.

Several minutes later a phalanx of cops and security guards advanced on the crowd, forcing people from the chambers and once again guaranteeing our elected ‘representatives’ would be able to avoid all accountability for their lethal inaction.

It is inexcusable that a city of Toronto’s wealth knowingly allows this kind of preventable carnage to continue on its streets. Rather than accommodating a clear, desperate need, Council responds with deeper cuts to basic services in each passing year while funneling ever more funds into paying the same cops who violently cleared Council chambers this morning, and who harass and abuse homeless people on a daily basis.   

Just last month another young Aboriginal man, a psychiatric survivor, was shot and killed by Toronto police over the theft of a small amount of fruit from a food store and because he was allegedly carrying a small knife. Why is the city funding this kind of carnage rather than ensuring people are sheltered?

On top of all this our Chief of Police is lobbying to put Tasers in the hands of every cop  in the City of Toronto at an estimated cost of $8 million dollars, while investing a smaller sum into basic resources for homeless people would make this and many other police expenditures unnecessary.

It is becoming clear this and other levels of government are pursuing a deadly priority of social cleansing, containment and control at all costs rather than investing in strategies or resources that would accommodate at least basic human needs and ensure that people not only enjoy an inalienable right to life, but to live with dignity.

This is a war against our most vulnerable citizens that has been waged for generations but in recent years an escalation has occurred that will result in many more casualties unless the governments waging it are held to account and the neo-conservative agenda driving it is defeated – once and for all.

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