The councillor for the area is blaming a group of anonymous volunteers for an alleged assault in a Dartmouth park.

Halifax Mutual Aid erected its latest emergency shelter in Starr Park on Prince Albert Road in Dartmouth on Saturday. They’re the same shelters that were first placed on municipal park land in early 2021, and the same ones removed from the Halifax Memorial Library site on August 18 of last year — when police pepper sprayed and arrested protesters who stood in the way of municipal staff attempting to remove the shelters.

Halifax Regional Police said they were called to Starr Park about an assault outside the newest shelter at about 7am on Monday.

The subject of the photo is an emergency shelter on green grass. It’s a cube, about 8 feet by 8 feet, with a door with a window in it. There’s no siding, but there is Home Depot-branded Tyvek house wrap, with red Tuck Tape holding it together. In the foreground, two people walk on a crusher dust path along the curb. There are two cars, one white and one grey, parked on the street, along with a red vespa. In the background is a carwash next to an Esso gas station.
Pedestrians walk past a Halifax Mutual Aid shelter in Starr Park in Dartmouth on Tuesday. Photo: Zane Woodford

“A 65-year-old man who lives in the area and a 31-year-old man who was not known to him became involved in an argument after 65-year-old man approached a structure that had been illegally built in the park this weekend,” the police said in a news release.

“The 31-year-old man assaulted and threatened the victim who was transported to hospital for what are believed to be non-life-threatening injuries.”

The 31-year-old man was charged with assault causing bodily harm and threats to cause death, police said.

On Tuesday, Coun. Sam Austin, who represents District 5 — Dartmouth Centre, issued a statement on his website. It reads, in part:

On Saturday, Mutual Aid Halifax dropped a pre-built shelter in Starr Park on Prince Albert Road (by the Marine Railway re-creation and Sawmill River). As usual, Mutual Aid did so without permission from HRM. The problem is Mutual Aid’s shelters aren’t safe. They have no supporting services, don’t meet the basics of the building code, and are placed with no regard for anyone else. The shelter at Starr Park wasn’t just occupied by one person, there were three people staying in that tiny space. Three people in a space with no heat, power, water, or a toilet, and with no support from any service providers.

Yesterday morning, unfortunately, the dangerous situation that Mutual Aid actively created blew up. A neighbour knocked on the door of the Starr Park shelter and the exchange ended very badly. The neighbour, a senior, was attacked by a shelter occupant and had to be taken to hospital with significant injuries, including broken bones. The shelter occupant who attacked him is facing serious criminal charges. Here is the police news release.

To say this is unacceptable is an understatement. This wouldn’t have happened had Mutual Aid not dropped that shelter in Starr Park on Saturday. What Mutual Aid is doing is dangerous and this attack on top of a previous fire in a Mutual Aid shelter very much underlines why. To install shelters anywhere Mutual Aid likes with no discussion with anyone else and with no supporting services is deeply problematic. There is a need for crisis shelters, but not in the dangerous way that Mutual Aid is doing it.

Austin went on to laud the Catholic Church’s shelters that were eventually built with HRM’s support.

“Mutual Aid could work with HRM and others in the same fashion, but they continue to seek confrontation. That’s because their efforts are as much a political project as they are a housing project, which is where Starr Park comes in,” Austin wrote.

The subject of the photo is an emergency shelter on green grass. It’s a cube, about 8 feet by 8 feet, with a door with a window in it. There’s no siding, but there is Home Depot-branded Tyvek house wrap, with red Tuck Tape holding it together. In the background are houses across a small street. One of them has a barbershop in the main floor. There's a black car parked along the street.
A Halifax Mutual Aid shelter in Starr Park in Dartmouth on Tuesday. Photo: Zane Woodford

The location is “an active park space next to a very well-used walkway,” Austin wrote.

“I have seen people with dogs, kids playing, and people sunbathing on the very spot where Mutual Aid dropped the shelter on Saturday. In choosing this prominent spot, Mutual Aid was trying to make a statement and the result of that statement is broken bones for an area resident and criminal charges for a shelter occupant who probably hasn’t had a very easy life.”

In its own statement, Halifax Mutual Aid refuted Austin’s.

“Demagoguing politicians like Sam Austin are part of the reason why Halifax Mutual Aid’s work is so desperately needed. Now more than ever, the growing number of people without housing require the safety of a room with a locking door, which crisis shelters provide,” Halifax Mutual Aid wrote.

The anonymous volunteers wrote that they were “saddened” by the incident in the park, but they know the person in hospital:

During the assembly of the crisis shelter at Starr Park and every day since, this individual has threatened volunteers and shelter occupants. We also believe this individual is responsible for using power tools to cut a hole in the crisis shelter on Sunday. To emphasize the seriousness of his threats, he told volunteers that “someone is going to jail – and I don’t care if it’s me.” We present these details not because the violence was justified, but because Halifax City Council is once again pushing false and misleading narratives that put some of the most vulnerable members of our community at greater risk of violence.

With their response to the group’s shelters, councillors have been “modeling behavior and tacitly encouraging vigilante actions like those seen at Starr Park,” Halifax Mutual Aid wrote.

They cited the first comment on Austin’s post, written by “fred” as proof:

Mutual Aid Halifax is a criminal organization advocating violence to support their agenda.
We should declare war on this organization before our city turns into an encampment for those unwilling to participate in our society.

“Councilor Austin’s platforming of this sort of violent rhetoric fans the flames of division, intolerance, and, ultimately, violence. In this case, it has left one man in the hospital and another in jail – both of which are traumatic and terrible outcomes,” the group wrote.

Austin noted the P.A.D.S. Community Network made a presentation to a committee of council last week, asking councillors to exercise a clause in the city’s parks bylaw that would allow sheltering in municipal parks. As the Halifax Examiner reported, councillors didn’t take any action on the request. Austin’s statement suggests that could change.

“I’m increasingly of the view that we have no real choice, but to designate some spaces for sheltering here in HRM,” Austin wrote. “HRM staff will be coming to Council with a report, hopefully at our next Council meeting on May 3, that will consider all of these issues. What absolutely can’t continue is allowing a third party anonymous group to create encampment sites and then walk away. Yesterday’s violence underscores that and all that is wrong with Mutual Aid’s reckless approach.”

Though it’s no indication of widespread public opinion, Austin has faced predictable blowback on Twitter.

Halifax Citadel-Sable Island MLA Lisa Lachance wrote: “The real issue is homelessness and a housing crisis. I know everyone is working on it but the reality is that people need shelter. I worry about the people we don’t see, that are in unsafe settings. Of course, I don’t want anybody hurt. Blaming any one org isn’t productive.”

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. Imagine someone comes to your door a 0700, you are in a “new home”, and there have been threats about where you home is and vandalism to the structure. You open the door to someone who really has no reason to be waking you up at anytime. I imagine there are words exchanged and then blows or shoves. The police arrive and instead of the person who instigated the contact being charged, the “homeowner” is. Imagine the roles being reversed. Who would be getting the backing from the Councillor? Who would be getting charged?

    1. I imagine my home would be on land zoned for housing and therefore would not be a structure in violation of a zoning bylaw.

      1. Are you a bylaw enforcement officer? If not, report it the appropriate authorities and let the “trained” professionals deal with it.