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Toronto didn’t comply with shelter physical distancing measures it agreed to: judge

TORONTO — A judge has ruled that the City of Toronto did not comply with physical distancing measures it agreed to in shelters as it responded to COVID-19 in the spring.  

In April, a group of advocates for the homeless brought a charter application to Ontario Superior Court challenging the shelter standards.  

The group argued the city’s standards permitted the use of bunk beds and failed to require a minimum of two-metre spacing between beds, the standard public health measurement to help curb the spread of COVID-19.  

It sought an injunction to stop the city from using lesser standards, but later put it on hold when the city signed an agreement with the group to make improvements.  

In June, the city told the group it had complied with the agreement, but a few weeks later the advocates said that wasn’t true.

In a written ruling released Thursday, Justice Lorne Sossin ruled in favour of the advocates.

“It is evident that a number of shelter sites were not in compliance with the physical distancing standard set out in the Interim Settlement Agreement as of June 15, 2020,” he wrote.  

“Given the instances of non-compliance in the record, where reasonable steps had not yet been taken to achieve physical distancing standards, I find that the City’s assertion of compliance … was not accurate, and therefore, that the City was in breach of the Interim Settlement Agreement.”  

Sossin ordered the city to continue reporting the progress it is making until it has met its obligations under the agreement.  

The judge noted that the city took a narrower definition of the physical distancing standard than the advocates, which included Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto, Aboriginal Legal Services, the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, the Black Legal Action Centre, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario.  

Sossin said the city took significant steps to live up to the agreement, and he did not find a sufficient basis to conclude that the city acted in bad faith.  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 16, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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