Evictions target families of gang members

City’s housing agency draws criticism for use of L.A.-style tactics in Jamestown

January 24, 2007, The Toronto Star
Betsy Powell
Crime Reporter

Toronto Community Housing is attempting a mblank eviction of families they say have street gang links in a bid to clean up the troubled Jamestown neighbourhood.

But some of those targeted are fiercely fighting the move before the Ontario Housing Rental Tribunal. Within the past year, TCH has served notice to leaseholders of 13 units in the Jamestown complex in Rexdale and there are likely more to come.

Some tenants have already moved out on their own. “They got the notice of termination and they left without challenging. Others have challenged,” said Steve Floros, the corporation’s director of property management.

And city-owned TCH is perfectly within its right to evict tenants when lines are crossed, Floros added.

“Our concern is, `What is the activity that’s taking place on our property, what’s the impact on the greater community,’ and our remedy, like any other landlord, is to turn to the tribunal and say, `This is the issue, this is the tenants’ involvement, and we’re seeking a remedy which is eviction in some cases.'”

It’s a different scale of justice than in a criminal proceeding, he explained. “When you go to the tribunal, it’s a quasi-legal hearing. It’s based on the balance of probability – unlike criminal law, (which is) based on (proof) beyond a reasonable doubt.”

TCH “can proceed even if the charges are thrown out,” he continued. “We don’t have to wait for the disposition of the case.”

Last week, a lawyer representing eight leaseholders appeared before an adjudicator arguing the approach – used in Los Angeles to quell gang violence – is unfair and penalizes families of alleged criminals who have not yet been convicted of a crime. The case resumes March 12.

“The blankumption is that the whole family is guilty, the whole family is condoning and promoting this behaviour,” said John Sawdon, executive director of the non-profit Canadian Training Institute, which runs “gang exiting” programs that help young people leave gangs.

“When there are some single moms who are trying to work two, three jobs to give her kids a living and may not have been home, may not be aware (of criminal activity) and what you’ve done with just one broad stroke is condemn and convict everyone of them,” he said.

Sawdon said the move signals there is a “new protocol with TCH (that) if you’re charged with gang affiliation or a crime related to gang involvement, your family immediately gets an eviction notice.”

But Floros denied there’s a new edict that a gang-affiliated family must go. “There’s no new protocol, it’s covered under the Tenant Protection Act, it’s something that all landlords can refer to if there’s an illegal act on or about the residential premises.

“We exercise that very carefully. … We don’t want to be throwing out people, our intention is to be corrective not punitive wherever possible … trying to take action that benefits the entire community,” Floros said.

While the agency has previously ordered evictions connected to police gang sweeps, notably 1994’s Project Impact in Scarborough which targeted the Malvern Crew, these are believed to be the largest such evictions.

After the raids in Jamestown last spring, Chief Bill Blair described the Jamestown Crew as “a sophisticated criminal organization that preyed on neighbourhoods, using violence to intimidate law-abiding citizens.” Over the years there were numerous shootings in the area and some residents were afraid to leave their units because of rampant drug dealing. Police reported hearing applause the day of the raids.

Gillian Whyte, whose 19-year-old son, Carlyle, was among the 100 people arrested during the police raid last May, part of Project XXX, explained yesterday why she doesn’t see it that way as she stood in the foyer of her three-bedroom unit in the Jamestown complex. On the wall, damaged during the police raid, is a sign with a small poem entitled “Happy Home.” She received her eviction notice last July and is among those fighting to stay.

Whyte has been told by TCH she must move even though her son, who faces drug and gun possession charges, is under house arrest somewhere else and no longer allowed to live under her roof. She and her teenaged daughter, who remain, must “pay for what something my son is accused of doing.”

Police also arrested Anthony Durrant, 20, found sleeping in her basement with a gun. Whyte said she had no idea about the gun and had never heard of a gang’s existence until after the raid. “I don’t have a metal detector at the door. How am I supposed to know the kid had a gun in the basement?” she said.

And parental authority – and watchfulness – only goes so far, she said. “You can’t be following your kids around, you can’t always know what they’re doing,” Whyte said. TCH told her police disclosure suggested there were drugs all over the house, including cocaine, crack pot and ecstasy and spent bullet casings and shells for different calibre weapons.

TCH has offered to move Whyte and her daughter to another housing complex near Jane and Finch, but she’s resolute. “I’m not going there.” She says she’s lived there peacefully for 10 years and said “nobody has a problem with my son around.”

Poor people are bearing the brunt, she said. “If you have a house and your kid does something wrong, the bank doesn’t take your mortgage away.”

A few rows of housing away, Sainab Mohmud, whose two sons Abdirzak Omar, 20, and Abdiaziz Omar, 21, and were arrested last May, is struggling with the prospect of eviction. She’s not sure where she and her four children will go if forced to leave. She does her best to make her points in English but is clear: If the justice system decides her sons did anything wrong, she knew nothing about it. “I don’t know a gang,” she said.

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