Edmonton unhoused drop-in demolition gets the nod as community massacre proceeds

Edmonton unhoused drop-in demolition gets the nod as community massacre proceeds
Front entrance of the former Boyle Street Community Services drop-in. From: Postmedia.

Edmonton's Boyle-McCauley neighbourhood suffered 155 community member deaths between just two service agencies in the last three months, coinciding with mass displacement of encampment dwellers.

During this time, a demolition permit was granted, presumably to owner Katz Group Real Estate, for the former Boyle Street Community Services building.

Is the City of Edmonton permitting a real estate land grab to drive mass death?

A permit was granted for the demolition of the former Boyle Street Community Services building in late January, according to the City of Edmonton General Building Permits site.

Demolition permit for the former Boyle Street Community Services building, dated January 30, 2024. From: City of Edmonton General Building Permits Map.

At the same time, the Boyle-McCauley neighbourhood is mourning the devastating loss of at least 155 community members, most of whom were unhoused, in just the last three months. People who are evicted from encampments are at considerably higher risk of drug poisoning death, in addition to the obvious risks of frostbite and hypothermia after having a tent and belongings confiscated in winter.

The 155 deaths were commemorated at a memorial held between Bissell Centre and Boyle Street Community Services, agencies that served these people.

20 photos of people mounted in white frames on a long white table, in 4 rows.
Photos of the 155 who were killed by structural neglect in Edmonton's Boyle-McCauley neighbourhood, memorialized at Bissell Centre on February 27 2024. Photo: Jim Gurnett.

As a harbinger to these preventable deaths, Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee's violent rhetoric on decampment of people living in tents reached its crescendo on November 17: "It starts with saying, 'No more camping.' It's just like 'No more use of drugs in open air downtown.'" This was just one month before his notorious pre-holiday announcement that over 150 people in eight encampments in Boyle-McCauley would be evicted into the cold.

At the time, Drug Data Decoded asked about this plan:

"Two of the encampments targeted for eviction are within a few blocks of the shuttered Boyle Street Community Services location set for development. Has a new front opened in the Katz Group’s war on the poor?"

The permit granted for the building's demolition appears to set the groundwork for commercial or residential development that could validate this concern.

These suspicions are not without precedent. Academic researchers at the University of Alberta documented the modern colonialist displacement of precariously housed and unhoused people from the area to make way for the Ice District, a Katz Group project completed in 2016. Journalist Omar Mosleh detailed this history and its fallout in a haunting story for the Toronto Star.

The move to develop these lands seized from under the tents of our society's most marginalized people appears to be proceeding at a fast clip. In September, Boyle Street was forced to move from its building in what later became clear was a lease deal gone sour with the Oilers Entertainment, owned by the Katz Group, of which Katz Group Real Estate is another subsidiary. Through a lawsuit, Katz Group was apparently attempting to renege on an agreement to contribute $5 million (on top of the $10 million already committed) for Boyle Street to move into a new facility, after Boyle Street sold its building to them and continued leasing it for $1 a month.

So far, Edmonton city council has been unwilling or unable to break through the persistence of city administration and police in destroying encampments. But in a telling show of skepticism toward Katz Group, Councillor Aaron Paquette recently asked city administration for a review of public subsidies to the Katz Group. Paquette noted that the developer and Oilers owner received hundreds of millions in public funding to build the Ice District.

All of this is playing out against a backdrop of cartoonishly villainous displays by Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, who recently made false and deeply stigmatizing claims about people living in encampments to an enthusiastic black-tie business crowd at the exclusive Ranchmen's Club. While drug poisoning deaths of people in public continue to multiply each quarter across Alberta, it seems clear the government will continue pulling the public down its dimly lit path of abstinence over options and 'treatment' over housing.

Around 50 people stand outside around a few central speakers giving a memorial, in a parking lot or field.
Memorial outside Bissell Centre in Edmonton, held on February 27 2024. Photo: Jim Gurnett.

While deadly land grabs proceed in the West Bank and the levelling of Gaza continues in an apparent accelerated refrain of Canada's Clearing the Plains strategy, it becomes impossible not to see these land occupation practices playing out in Edmonton through a similar lens. Citizens of the city need to decide rather quickly whether they are willing to subsidize their militarized police to conduct further land expropriation and ensuing death to benefit billionaire developers.

Drug Data Decoded provides analysis on topics concerning the war on drugs using news sources, publicly available data sets and freedom of information submissions, from which the author draws reasonable opinions. The author is not a journalist.

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