The executive director for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Raj Dhir, is urging Kenora city council to reject a proposed loitering bylaw.

Dhir says the city can't solve its social issues by pushing the homeless out of sight.

"Local leaders must work with Indigenous leadership and service providers to 'ensure that the needs of service users are accurately identified and appropriately met,' " he says in a letter addressed to council, before today's vote.

During last week's committee of the whole, councillors were split 3-3 on the proposed bylaw, with the mayor in favour. He said the bylaw provided the city with a legal tool necessary to help police, if they needed to clear away an encampment or a person asleep in a public space.

Since the committee of the whole, however, First Nation leaders from Grand Council Treaty #3 and Nishnawbe Aski Nation have voiced their opposition to the bylaw. The situation echoes the debate last summer, following the temporary closure of the city's downtown shelter.

Dhir says he's following up on a report from the commission issued last year, which said the city needs to respond to the current crisis in a way that recognizes that all people are welcome in Kenora, and that all people are entitled to basic dignity and respect.

The commission is also calling upon federal and provincial governments to provide financial and technical assistance, as the community searches for a solution.

For more information:

Letter from the commission

Link for virtual council meeting

First Nation leaders object to proposed loitering bylaw

Neighbours say encampment disruptive

Naloxone kit saves a life