Evicted Heron Gate residents launch human rights complaint
Alleges 'discriminatory' practices by Timbercreek, claims city is 'complicit'
Former Heron Gate residents have launched a human rights complaint against the City of Ottawa and the landlord behind last year's mass evictions that forced more than 500 people from their homes.
The claim before the Human Rights Tribunal accuses Timbercreek Asset Management — which demolished 150 townhouses after saying they had deteriorated beyond repair — of racial discrimination, and the City of Ottawa of being complicit in the evictions.
The demolished homes are now piles of rubble behind blue construction fencing.
- The long demise of Heron Gate
- Heron Gate tenants prepare to launch human rights challenge to mass evictions
According to the claim, 90 per cent of the evicted tenants of the community, built in the 1960s, were immigrants or people of colour.
It says their forced displacement destroyed a vibrant community that was welcoming to new Canadians.
The complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal alleges racial discrimination in Timbercreek’s mass evictions in 2018. Says 90% of residents evicted were people of colour, and that the evictions destroyed a vibrant, tight knit community of Somalis, Arabs, Nepalese and others <a href="https://t.co/s8SLw2QNMv">pic.twitter.com/s8SLw2QNMv</a>—@JudyTrinhCBC
The complaint alleges Timbercreek displaced a large group of low-income immigrant families with the aim of building new apartments to attract a "predominantly affluent, adult-oriented, white and non-immigrant community in its stead."
It also accuses Timbercreek of using the strategy of "squeezing" to "increase profits in the short term and expel lower-income tenants over the long term."
Timbercreek deliberately allowed the rowhouses to fall into disrepair over several years so it could use the dilapidation to justify the eviction, the complaint says, and that their overarching goal was to build new units at significantly higher rents.
As for the City of Ottawa's role, the filing states the bylaw department neglected to hold Timbercreek accountable for upholding property standards.
This doesn't happen in the Glebe or in Westboro.- Daniel Tucker-Simmons, lawyer
The city failed in its obligations under international human rights law and the provincial human rights code, the complaint says, to ensure that development does not displace members of marginalized groups.
The 14 claimants are seeking $50,000 each, plus the right to return to Heron Gate and live in a similar-sized unit.
'They don't have the clout'
"This doesn't happen in the Glebe or in Westboro. It happens in Heron Gate because the local community doesn't have the material power to resist these types of predatory development projects," said lawyer Daniel Tucker-Simmons of Avant Law, who is representing the claimants.
His firm's analysis of neighbourhood census data shows that half of Heron Gate households have an income of less than $40,000 a year.
"They don't have the financial means. They don't have the clout or the resources [to fight]," Tucker-Simmons said.
Some Heron Gate residents fear joining the human rights challenge over concerns it could impact their ability to become Canadian citizens — even though that's not the case, he added.
The human rights complaint documents various instances of dilapidation in the 14 claimants' homes: a leaky roof that wasn't fixed for nine months, cracks in the foundation, repeated basement flooding, broken doors and windows, and mice and cockroach infestations.
The filing also details how the close-knit immigrant community has fractured: neighbours who relied on each other for childcare, translation help, or rides to medical appointments are now scattered across the city and have lost that support.
These claims have not been tested in court.
'We went above and beyond'
In a statement Tuesday, Timbercreek said they're aware of the complaint and will not comment on ongoing litigation.
At a community development meeting last month, vice-president of operations John Loubser told CBC News the landlord has a policy of fixing major repair issues between 48 and 72 hours after receiving a work order.
When asked about the impending human rights complaint, Loubser said they did more to ease the transition for tenants than they were legally required to.
Under the Residential Tenancies Act, landlords can evict tenants to demolish or renovate and repair units.
"We went above and beyond what was required under those circumstances," said Loubser. "We paid them [a] moving allowance of $2,000 above the three months' rent in compensations that they were also due."
At that same community meeting, Timbercreek released development plans that included a 25-storey tower and an additional 1,000 rental units — 20 per cent of which would be at "affordable rent" levels.
Those plans will be presented to the city's planning committee later this spring.
Loubser also said Timbercreek was committing to a "social contract" that would ensure current Heron Gate residents will be moved into newly built units if their homes are slated for demolition in the future.
However, Loubser said at this point that pledge was not legally binding.
David White, the City of Ottawa's deputy solicitor, said in an email that the city does not comment on matters of ongoing litigation.