Skip to main content

Toronto has failed to protect homeless people in its over-crowded shelter and respite system – exposing people to overcrowded conditions that violate all public health advisories.


April 24 – The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and its coalition partners have filed a constitutional and human rights challenge against the City of Toronto today. We are deeply concerned that the City continues to operate and oversee shelters that do not adhere to physical distancing standards. This endangers those who use the shelter system, and has forced countless others to set up tents and encampments outdoors, rather than risk going into spaces where there are already many people who have contracted the virus. At the most recent count there are 135 confirmed Covid-19 cases in 12 different shelters – and more to come. The City’s conduct has endangered not only homeless people, but also shelter staff, healthcare workers, their families, and the broader community.

The dangers come directly from Toronto’s Shelter and Respite Standards, that require spacing between beds of only 2.5 feet – well under the 6 feet requirement being enforced during the pandemic. This is particularly disturbing at a time when everyone is being told to “stay home,” when hotels are going bankrupt, and rooms and student residences are sitting empty. The lack of appropriate accommodation six weeks into this crisis and the city’s conduct violate individuals’ Charter rights including the right to life, security of the person, and equality.

Coalition members include: CCLA, Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto, Aboriginal Legal Services, Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, Black Legal Action Centre, and HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario.

Read our application to the Court here.

CCLA and its coalition partners are grateful to the tremendous work of our pro bono counsel, Andrew Porter (Lenzner Slaght), Jessica Orkin (Goldblatt Partners), and Emily Hill (Aboriginal Legal Services) and team. 

CCLA has already written to the Mayor on this matter, setting out in clear terms the need for housing or, at a minimum, safe non-congregate shelter spaces, for example by using as a temporary measure the thousands of hotel, motel and student residence rooms that are currently sitting empty.

With other organizations worried about the health of our most vulnerable, we wrote a letter to the city demanding the city immediately create appropriate physical distancing, and informed city officials that if they do not do so, we will initiate legal action this week. Read our letter to the city here. 

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
Equality Program Director
Canadian Civil Liberties Association

About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.

For the Media

For further comments, please contact us at

For Live Updates

Please keep referring to this page and to our social media platforms. We are on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.

en_CAEnglish (Canada)