A wave of anti-eviction demonstrations have recently hit Toronto. They will only continue to gain momentum as the province faces an eviction blitz during the winter and second wave of COVID-19.
On Saturday, Dec. 5, more than 150 tenants from across the city alongside community organizers rallied in front of the Metcap Living Management head office in Toronto to put an end to the COVID eviction crisis. Metcap and other landlords have proposed 50 per cent rent forgiveness for struggling tenants to the provincial government, but this has yet to be implemented. The demonstrators intended to directly ask Metcap CEO, Brent Merrill, why rent forgiveness has not been provided to tenants. Their additional demands included no evictions and no rent increases.
A similar demonstration took place on Nov. 28, when around 200 people in East York responded to threats of eviction by shutting down the busy Victoria Park and Danforth intersection for a few hours.
Tenants under attack
Actions like this are the only appropriate response when faced with mass evictions, which are currently underway in Toronto and the rest of the province. The series of demonstrations happening across the city are the result of numerous eviction hearings underway at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) and the subsequent issuing of eviction notices.
The eviction hearings currently underway are both from current and backlogged landlord requests from the first lockdown in March when the provincial government halted evictions from taking place. However, this moratorium expired in July and despite the second more dangerous COVID-19 wave, no further actions have been taken by the province regarding the mass evictions taking place. To further worsen matters, Doug Ford’s government passed Bill 184, dubbed the “Eviction Bill”, allowing certain landlords to pressure tenants into repayment plans privately. As we anticipated back in July, this has resulted in a mass offensive against tenants. A clear consequence of these negligent actions by the provincial and federal governments are the multiplying tent cities across the country, which will continue to grow as evictions continue.
Cole Weber, a legal clinic worker in Parkdale, reported that nearly 2,500 eviction hearings were scheduled by the LTB in November in Toronto alone. During these eviction hearings, the board rushes through the process of forcing tenants to accept unaffordable repayment plans for accumulated rent arrears in addition to their regular rent. If tenants are unable to stick to the repayment plans, they are then liable for automatic eviction.
While eviction hearings are ruthless under normal circumstances, the current circumstances make them even more inaccessible as they are being conducted through Microsoft Teams video conference rooms. The switch to online hearings poses clear challenges to tenants for whom access to internet or reliable technology is limited, or if language barriers exist. The appalling example below documents the LTB assisting a landlord to negotiate a repayment plan. with a child providing translation for their parents. The result of something being lost in translation, or misheard due to an interrupted internet connection would be a family on the streets during both a pandemic and a Canadian winter.
Regardless of whether the tenant is able to attend, the eviction hearing continues and imposes binding terms on the tenant. On the other hand, if a landlord is absent from the meeting, it is rescheduled to a later date. This blatant hypocrisy is another example highlighting whose interests the LTB, and other governance bodies, represent.
The Toronto Star reported on a scandalous incident where adjudicator Shannon Kiekens, despite a conflict of interest, issued an interim order that favours the landlord over the working class, chiefly immigrant tenants’ union, East York 50. Kiekens was a paralegal at landlord law firm Cohen Highley for 20 years. In the case between Pinedale Properties and East York 50, Kiekens sided with the Pinedale Properties lawyer, who also happens to be her ex-colleague at the Cohen Highley law firm. In fact, many of the LTB adjudicators were recently politically appointed by Doug Ford’s government in preparation for the mass evictions now underway.
Labour must fight back!
The actions taken thus far to fight mass evictions have been organized by various tenants’ unions and grassroots organizations mobilizing tenants across Toronto. One of these organizations is People’s Defence Toronto, who describe themselves as “an organization of poor and working people in the GTA fighting to build political power for our class.” Another one is Parkdale Organize, a membership-based group of working class people who “organize to build neighbourhood power in Parkdale.”
The spontaneous demonstrations we have seen thus far need to be further supported by the NDP and the labour movement. In turn, the organizations mobilizing against evictions must appeal to the labour movement to win their support. Particularly, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) workers are involved at every step of the eviction process, and hold the power to collectively refuse to participate in evictions. The only way to win is by uniting the movement against mass evictions with other struggles such as teachers fighting against unsafe working conditions, or essential workers unreasonably being hit by the pandemic due to negligent bosses.
While the NDP has launched an online petition to make evictions during COVID-19 illegal, only a few MPPs, like Suze Morrison, have been actively speaking in support of tenants during the recent waves of evictions. On Dec. 9, Morrison forced a vote on a non-binding motion for an evictions moratorium to be reinstated, which was adopted by Ford’s government followed by an adjourning of the legislature for two months. This means unless an emergency order is issued by Ford soon, which is unlikely, evictions will continue into the new year.
The eviction crisis has been met with an almost complete media blackout. However, if unions come out in numbers to show that they will not stand by, it will be impossible for the government and media to ignore. Likewise, more NDP MPPs must stand alongside Morrison to fight for tenants in parliament and beyond.
The movement is already spreading to struggling tenants across the province, and only with the backing of the organized working class can we wage a coordinated and powerful offensive against landlords and the politicians on their side. The fight for “No COVID evictions” must be linked to the broader struggle for affordable housing for all. We must seize the opportunity to both put an end to the immediate eviction crisis and the parasitic, exploitative control of the landowners altogether.