Skip to Main Content

City’s failure to address COVID-19 in homeless shelters may lead to legal action

April 22, 2020

Coalition advises City it will commence legal proceedings if steps are not taken to address the unsafe situation in Toronto’s homeless shelters

A coalition of five legal advocacy groups is calling on the City of Toronto to take immediate steps to address the crisis in homeless shelters and respites, and provide safe housing to Toronto’s homeless population.

The coalition is comprised of Aboriginal Legal Services, the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, the Black Legal Action Centre, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario.

Eleven of the City’s shelters have confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a total of 113 individuals confirmed to have the disease. Despite the increased risks of transmission in situations where people gather and live in close proximity, the City is not operating its shelter system in accordance with federal and provincial public health guidance requiring a minimum of 2 metres of separation between beds. Instead, the City continues to permit the operation of shelters and respites in accordance with its usual standards.

While the City has taken some preliminary steps to find additional shelter space,  the Coalition maintains that the City has proceeded far too slowly, and has failed to implement physical distancing protocols and obtain sufficient shelter space. People experiencing homelessness are at an immediate risk for contracting COVID-19, while thousands of hotel rooms in the City lie vacant. The heightened risk of transmission within the shelter system is also hazardous for shelter staff, their families, and the broader community.

The Coalition has advised the City that, if it does not take more urgent action to address these conditions, it will take legal action against the City. In its view, the City is operating its shelter system in a manner that is discriminatory and violates the right to life and security of the person of shelter residents, contrary to sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Click here to read the letter sent by the Coalition to the City.

Read a CBC story on the case here.


Jessica Orkin, Louis Century, Geetha Philipupillai

Practice Areas

Constitutional Law, Human Rights Law