The City of Toronto is seeking a private security firm that will have guards surveil parks, remove encampments, and make arrests.

A request for proposals (RFP), posted on August 24, seeks private security guards to patrol parks all across the city including Trinity Bellwoods, Alexandra Park, and Allan A. Lamport Stadium Park. The hired guards will be responding to emergency and law enforcement calls, "investigating and acting on possible encampments," and "physically removing individuals found trespassing or engaging in criminal acts." The guards will also be able to make arrests.

A City of Toronto spokesperson, however, confirmed to STOREYS that although the guards will have the ability to intervene and make arrests, "their primary purpose is to observe and report encampment activity," adding that "they will not physically intervene in the establishment of an encampment."

This isn't the first time the City has attempted to contract out such work, having posted a similar request for a private security company in May. The effort ultimately failed after no qualified bidders were presented. Instead, two short-term contracts were awarded in April, totalling $1M, the City said.

The City also employed the use of private security during last year's controversial removal of encampments from three Toronto parks, the cost of which totalled more than $840,000. The budget for the most recent RFP "will be determined once submissions are reviewed," the City said.

City Councillor Josh Matlow spoke out against the City's vision to hire a security firm, calling on Mayor John Tory to immediately suspend the RFP.

"Overwhelmingly, people have expressed significant concern to me about the idea of their city and their tax dollars hiring private security companies to surveil and arrest people in public parks," Matlow said. "Frankly, this goes above and beyond the debate about encampments."

Matlow also raised concerns about the extent of training these guards would have. According to the City's RFP, a successful vendor will need to ensure that each guard has two years of experience in "a related security function." Alternatively, the guards can have any two of the following to qualify: police experience or a minimum one year of Canadian Armed Forces experience; graduated from a community college in a law enforcement, security administration or related field; one year of experience in a related security function.

"There's no evidence that each of these individual security guards are adequately trained to deal with vulnerable people," Matlow said. "The suggestion in the RFP that they should arrest people, I think, raises a reasonable question about whether or not that will lead to unnecessary escalation that may result in violence."

Not only is it a major concern that the hired guards will track and remove homeless individuals from parks as safe housing alternatives within the City continue to lack, Matlow says, but the RFP raises an overarching issue of Torontonians being able to enjoy park space without feeling surveilled.

"The idea of private security companies being empowered to surveil any of us, whether you have a home or not, is unacceptable," Matlow said.