Correction: A previous version of this story/post misspelled Jordn Geldert-Hautala’s first name. The story/post has been updated to reflect the correct spelling. We apologize for this error.

On the evening of June 24, 2022, officers from Toronto’s 52 Division placed Jordn Geldert-Hautala in a police cruiser and transported him out of the city. Geldert-Hautala, an unhoused Indigenous man living in downtown Toronto, was given no indication as to where he was being taken and was provided with unstable reasoning as to why he was detained.

His arrest and transportation were part of a cumulative effort to obtain Geldert-Hautala on outstanding warrants from Quebec, specifically Gatineau. However, Geldert-Hautala had never been to Gatineau and any outstanding legal documentation related to him from Quebec had long since been nullified by the province. 

Geldert-Hautala remained in the squad car, isolated from his community, legal counsel and any sign of assistance. His destination remaining subject to change, Geldert-Hautala had no choice but to sit helplessly as the evening’s events unfolded before him. 

Understanding the lead up to Geldert-Hautala’s night journey in the squad car involves an entire saga with the City of Toronto, the Toronto Police Service and their relationship with vulnerable individuals who have been residing in encampments across the city.

The Set-up

Following the public relations calamity of last summer, where Toronto police remorselessly clashed with encampment members and protestors, the city has implemented new strategies in order to keep the appearance of encampments out of sight and out of mind, adding to the unyielding tension between the unhoused community and city officials. 

As a result of public outcry, internal investigations were swiftly implemented, overturning numerous stones revealing a continued shortage of ethical practice by city officials. 

Enter Jordn Geldert-Hautala, a 45-year-old Indigenous man who has resided in a tiny-shelter (the last one in the city) located in Clarence Square, a small park nestled between Spadina Avenue and Wellington Street, for a year and change. 

Geldert-Hautala is originally from Hobbema, Alberta, renamed in 2014 to its traditional Cree name of Maskwacis. He travelled across Canada extensively and ended up in Toronto about five years ago. Since landing in the GTA, Geldert-Hautala has created an enormous community made up of neighbours who live around Clarence Square, community organizers and other unhoused individuals. 

A prominent member of the Wellington Place neighbourhood, Geldert-Hautala has been operating as an ad-hoc sheriff on Clarence’s grounds, ensuring that new arrivals have a place to stay and remain undisturbed by harassment. He has even helped to streamline the process of securing temporary housing for those who request it by using his connections with support workers from shelters and encampment advocacy programs across the city. 

When you enter the small encampment, which is usually made up of a few tents and Geldert-Hautala’s small wooden shelter, Geldert-Hautala greets you with a friendly hello and often offers you a seat. He is kind, hospitable, and can fire off passages of the Criminal Code of Canada on a dime, especially law that applies to Indigenous folks. 

Geldert-Hautala is well-versed in the right to self-determination for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. In June of last year, the Canadian government committed to legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires the Government of Canada, in collaboration with Indigenous communities, to “develop an action plan to achieve the Declaration’s objectives and to align federal laws with the Declaration.” 

Canada has two years to implement this new legislation into Canadian law. 

Article ten of the Declaration states: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories,” and that “no relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.” This article remains relevant in situations when police are forcibly removing Indigenous residents from encampments.

Geldert-Hautala is no stranger to the ethical misfires of city officials, as he himself fell victim to abuse last year at the hands of local law enforcement when a small sacred fire was lit in Clarence Square Park in April, 2021. Emergency responders were immediately dispatched to the park, but Geldert-Hautala tried to explain the meaning of the fire and its importance to himself and the Indigenous community. Within moments he was violently thrown to the ground and detained by Toronto police officers from 52 Division. 

Since then, officers from 52 Division have been making consistent rounds in the park, engaging both Geldert-Hautala and other residents. The division covers a significant part of the downtown area, south of Bloor Street down to the shoreline, and east of Spadina Avenue to Yonge Street.

Geldert-Hautala feels like the events of last year have painted a prominent target on his back, as police from 52 Division have executed several maneuvers to remove him from the park. In May, police confined Geldert-Hautala to his tiny shelter for 17 days, citing that he had outstanding warrants from Quebec. 

“The weird part is, looking at it and going how many times, [after] how many days does it become illegal harassment by an officer? I keep telling them that it has been dealt with already,” says Geldert-Hautala in reference to the annulled status of his warrants.

After the 17-day standoff with law officials, a Quebec crown prosecutor dropped all outstanding warrants, as they had long since been nullified by the province. The original documentation surrounded a small stretch of days where Geldert-Hautala was detained in Quebec and missed a court appearance: small potatoes in the eyes of the provincial government. 

And yet, these warrants re-emerge later as the impetus behind the police’s effort to remove Geldert-Hautala as a presence in the park. Like any thorn in the side of bureaucracy, he had been prominently vocal against new city encampment strategies and was in possession of the city’s last tiny shelter. These structures were originally constructed during the pandemic to keep unhoused people safe in the frigid Toronto winter but they quickly became a source of contention for city officials who wanted them removed. 

Jordn Geldart-Hautala's shelter is surrounded by condo buildings in Clarence Square Park. Photo by Jess Mason

The Build-Up 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the City of Toronto, in partnership with the Toronto Police Service, heavily invested in maintaining a presence in parks – particularly those where encampments have emerged.

The recent implementation of private security services befitted the city’s recent 2022 Encampment Prevention Plan, a new municipal strategy drafted by city officials, that surrounds a multi-tiered approach to keeping encampments small, contained, and scattered. 

The contents of this plan remain undisclosed to the public. 

In the fall of 2021, the City of Toronto drafted a request for proposal (RFP) in order to approach private security vendors regarding the possibility of implementing them as a buffer between city parks, encampment residents and exterior forces such as law enforcement. 

“No single provider could meet the requirements for monitoring, so the city currently has two contracts, one with Logixx Security and one with Valguard that began on April 13th of this year,” says Anthony Toderain, Senior Communications Advisor with the City of Toronto. 

Toderain was able to paint a picture of the extent of duties these security companies hold when it comes to encampment engagement.

“Once they report on a new encampment or a growing existing location, the goal for us is to then provide outreach services as a first step to engage with those people in the park to help them understand what services are available and connect them with emergency shelter services,” says Toderain. 

Toderain says that the primary objective of these security forces is to monitor the encampments, relay information to law enforcement, and allow city staff to draft shelter offers to encampment residents.

However, a majority of these outreach initiatives are not permanent and are often restricted to transitional spaces: shelters that don’t come with the guarantee of permanent placement and stability. Often encampment residents are initially offered a bed in a shelter, but once their tent and belongings are cleared, they can wait hours only to be told that there is no longer room for them in the shelter system, and then they are forced back onto the street with less shelter than they had before. 

According to data from Toronto Public Health, more than 200 homeless people died in Toronto in 2021, a 50 percent increase from the previous year. This number grew substantially in the second half of the year after the city cleared encampments. 

Toderain notes that the implementation of security forces is with bigger parks in mind, such as Trinity Bellwoods Park, Alexandra Park and Lamport Stadium Park — locations that saw some of the most violent methods from law enforcement when encampments were torn down. 

“Why is it that there’s policing here before any city involvement? They’re not scoping out the area beforehand, [the police] are coming here full force and doing the job for [the city]... They’re trying to dumb it down so it looks smaller — that’s why they’re creating smaller encampments,” says Geldert-Hautala. 

Jordn Geldert-Hautala sits in his tiny shelter in Clarence Square Park in July, 2022. Photo by Jacob Pesaruk

The Execution 

On Friday, June 24, Geldert-Hautala was detained by local law enforcement. 

Geldert-Hautala believes that the arrest originated from an encounter with an officer whom he had seen harassing encampment residents for some time. 

“I decided I wanted to get his badge number and that’s when the arrest happens — well, it was more like an attack. There was enough time to ask ‘why are you grabbing me? You’re not detaining me or placing me under arrest, this is illegal,’” says Geldert-Hautala. 

Geldert-Hautala was in police custody by 5:30 p.m., and where the standard procedure for the detainment of an ‘offender’ would be immediate contact with the legal representation, he was forced to wait until 7 p.m. to make contact with his legal representation. 

“We got a call [from the encampment]… that Jordn was — I would say — kidnapped, and that he had been arrested and the reasoning the police were giving — which was once again 52 Division — was that there were outstanding warrants,” says Sima Atri, human rights lawyer and Geldert-Hautala’s primary legal representation. 

This type of procedure is not only highly unorthodox in Atri’s eyes, but also highly unethical, as no information was supplied surrounding the nature of Geldert-Hautala’s arrest at the time communication was established.

Much like the incidents from earlier this summer, the reason Geldert-Hautala was given for his detainment was that he had outstanding warrants from Quebec, however, this time specifically from Gatineau, according to Toronto police.  

“We informed them Jordn’s never been to Gatineau, then they immediately changed their story and said there were outstanding warrants from the province of Quebec. We were then in immediate contact with 52 Division and we ordered all of the documentation from the court that showed the warrants had been nullified because the charges had been withdrawn,” says Atri. 

The warrants brandished in the face of Geldert-Hautala and Atri were the very same from the May standoff, meaning the officers involved were using nullified warrants in an effort to once again arrest Geldert-Hautala.

According to Atri, her office was only able to communicate with the warrant officers over the course of the ordeal. 

“We were calling basically about once an hour to try and get information and speak to whoever the officer in charge was, in order to make it absolutely clear that there were no outstanding warrants in Quebec,” says Atri. 

As the events of the evening unfolded, Atri slowly put the pieces together as to whether Geldert-Hautala was directly targeted or the victim of misinformation. 

“My understanding is that [the arrest was by an] officer who often patrols the encampments, so I think he’s aware of Jordn’s leadership role… Not only was he detained, arrested and brought to the police station, but he was also then held for hours with no information given to his counsel,” says Atri. 

After the tug-of-war between Atri’s office and 52 Division ended, Atri was assured that Geldert-Hautala would remain in holding in 52 Division, a notion that couldn’t have been further from the truth. 

The Disappearing Act 

“By about 12:30 at night we left the station and I was told we were going for a ride out to Trenton,” says Geldert-Hautala.

With no additional information provided to his counsel, and the last communication being that he was still in 52 Division’s custody, it wasn’t until one hour after officers left the city that Atri was informed that Geldert-Hautala and the arresting officers were heading to Trenton, Ontario for further processing. 

“We know stories where police arrest people without lawful grounds, [but] this, this is far outside of that… I have not heard of anything like this outside of what we know about Starlight Tours,” Atri says.  

‘Starlight Tours” is a cynical name given to the practice documented in the prairies where Indigenous individuals are driven far outside of city limits by local police. They are then abandoned and left to contend with the elements, often resulting in tragic outcomes

“I think that’s how Jordn understood it due to his Indigenous status,” says Atri. “He mentioned, ‘This often happens by Canadian law enforcement, where people they want to harass are driven around while still in police custody, and who knows where you’ll be dropped off.’” 

Toronto has its own history with police driving individuals to deserted places and allegedly brutalizing them. The practice is referred to as the “Cherry Beach Express,” a term made Toronto-famous by a Pukka Orchestra song of the same name in 1984. It was rumoured that TPS officers would pick up individuals and take them out to the Cherry Beach-Port Lands lots, an isolated industrial area of the east end, and beat them. The song depicts an individual on the street late on a Friday night who is picked up by 52 Division officers and taken “for a drive” to Cherry Beach and subjected to violence.  

There is at least one documented accusation that the Toronto Police victimized an individual at Cherry Beach: in 2003, Thomas Kerr won a $750,000 settlement against nine 51 Division officers whom he accused of taking him to Cherry Beach and beating him at the lots in 1996. 

As Geldert-Hautala was being transported by police in the small hours of the morning, Atri waited for any further communication from 52 Division to make sure that his undue passage was halted before they reached the border.

“At 1:30 a.m., [52 Division] called our office to say that Jordn was in a police car now being driven to Gatineau. No one called to say they were turning around or provided reasons for that change in decision,” says Atri. 

Geldert-Hautala was unaware of what trajectory he and the officers were on, rendering him not only abducted, but also completely unaware of where he was at the time.

“It felt really weird,” says Geldert-Hautala. “It felt like they were trying to disappear me.” 

By the small hours of the morning, officers pulled off the highway and parked in where Geldert-Hautala could only assume was Trenton, however, it was never confirmed. 

“So at about 2:50 a.m., we’re in [Trenton], parked in front of the military base. By 2:55 a.m., I was informed we were turning around and going back to [Toronto]. Which made little sense to me, like you don’t just get a call from a judge saying something was rescinded at that hour,” says Geldert-Hautala. 

With Geldert-Hautala on track back to Toronto city limits, lingering questions remained.

Was the trek the end result of crossed wires, a scare tactic, or was it simply a halted border hand-off?

The Encore 

Almost 12 hours after his initial detainment, Geldert-Hautala was en route back to Toronto and  was back at his shelter in Clarence Square by 4:45 a.m. Shaken but far from finished, both he and Atri were ready to get some answers and find out why something like this was allowed to happen. 

“I’m still so weirded out that they went to the length they did that day,” says Geldert-Hautala, who is afraid that the police may do this again, either to himself or someone else. “Shouldn't every single person involved know that my warrant was rescinded?”

Since then, a full-scale inquiry has been launched by Atri and her team. Working in tandem with Geldert-Hautala, all involved are on standby to file a formal complaint with the Toronto Police Service. 

“We have a complaint ready to file, however, I don’t have high hopes that the internal police mechanisms and officers involved in these investigations will take any sort of accountability,” says Atri. 

The Hoser reached out to representatives from the Toronto Police Service in an effort to get an account of the events of June 24 and 25. 

In response, a communications liaison spoke on behalf of the precinct. 

Constable Tina Lousie-Trépanier’s official statement is as follows, which was supplied to The Hoser on July 28. 

I can confirm that a man was arrested on Friday, June 24, for a valid out of town warrant. The out of town Police service confirmed the warrant was valid, and advised that they would take custody of the man. Police Officers from Toronto transported the man to the out of town service, and along the way, they received another message from the other police service that they would no longer authorize the transfer.

Once this message was received, officers from Toronto Police Service immediately released the man unconditionally while on the road, and then he was given a courtesy ride to where ever he wanted to go.

As no criminal charges were laid by the Toronto Police Service, we will not be naming the person involved.” 

The Hoser followed up on this statement on August 3, however, Constable Trépanier informed The Hoser that she no longer works as a corporate communications representative with the Toronto Police Service. 

Curtains 

With the ‘who’ and ‘how’ established, defending parties are left with the gnawing query as to ‘why?’

Atri and Geldert-Hautala believe that this episode was no mere fumbling of the ball of due process, but was, in all likelihood, a direct strategy. 

“I think they were trying to spook me,” says Geldert-Hautala.

Atri does not hesitate to point out why something like this would happen to this particular individual at this specific time of year. 

“I think the city has a strategy right now and they’re acting in collaboration with the police to enforce that strategy. One year after the massive clearings they are trying to ensure that no new encampments are built within the city, and the way they’re doing that is to target leaders. All done through police harassment, intense surveillance, and any sort of criminalization that is possible,” says Atri. 

The city’s Encampment Resolution Pilot, a precursor to the current Encampment Prevention Plan, was relayed to The Hoser by Atri’s team. Atri’s team was able to gather background information on this strategy via a freedom of information and privacy request [FOIP], and while the document is from last year, it still paints a very clear picture of what the city’s current strategies are. 

The model is based on past encampment procedures carried out by other large municipalities in North America, such as Philadelphia and San Francisco. 

An additional document acquired through Atri’s team, the Encampment Project Overview, echoes the current focus of connecting encampment residents to services and housing. However, these actions remain less a priority, with the main focus once again being on the uprooting of encampments before they take shape. 

Even with the city’s cat and mouse approach to the release of their current encampment strategies, Atri is aware that there are many within the community who are trying to acquire clear answers, especially in light of the recent tactics that the city has deployed. 

“I know of many advocates who are trying to get additional documents that would speak clearly to the fact that there is a larger strategy behind all of the different pieces that we’re seeing,” says Atri. 

It is possible that Geldert-Hautala central position in his community is the reason he was targeted by police, but his prominence also ensured that he had the support of his networks after he was arrested. For others, less visible in these spaces and without legal representation to repeatedly inquire on their behalf, this 12-hour detainment could have played out as a much longer episode, with an even more damaging outcome.  

As for Geldert-Hautala, he remains shaken by the events of late June, noting he remains more vigilant than ever, though it costs him a good night's sleep. 

When asked whether the actions taken by Toronto police have rattled him enough to vacate his shelter and Clarence Square Park altogether, unwavering, he says: 

“My plans are to stay right here.”

This journalism is powered in part by readers like you. Please consider contributing whatever you can to The Hoser’s reporting; it will go directly to telling Toronto’s most important stories.

Posted 
Aug 23, 2022
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