Disinformation campaign, fake eviction notices, target Toronto's Mayor, unhoused residents

A CTV journalist Joanna Lavoie, has claimed that an individual's determination to clear the encampment at Allan Gardens has led them to distribute fraudulent eviction notices to those residing in tents within the area. A close reading of the falsified city communication actually hints that the intent behind the letter may have been to foment social unrest or to accelerate political pressure.

According to claims made on social media by Diana Chan McNally, people who had been staying at the park received an unattributed letter printed on white paper featuring the City of Toronto's emblem. In an unverified statement posted on Twitter Mcnally claims the source of the letter was a person claiming to be Mayor Olivia Chow’s assistant. She attributes the motivation to “hatred for unhoused people”. Lavoie’s CTV article further claims the letter instructed encampment residents to vacate the park with immediate effect.

The content of the letter read, "Commencing from September 1, 2023, the City of Toronto will no longer be allowing squatters to loiter in public areas of the city.”

The letter goes on to reference the “current and ongoing housing crisis.”

“Pleas (sic) have all your property and belongings off of ALL PUBLIC Toronto, Ontario, Canada property immediately.”

Dated August 16, the single-page letter proceeded to outline that the city would take necessary actions to clear away all possessions and individuals at the recipients' expense. Any loss of property incurred in this process would not be subject to reimbursement, and this directive was slated for completion by September 1.

Of course, and despite what CTV says, the call to action in the letter was not actually to vacate the parks. Recipients of the letter were also directed to contact "city council" or Mayor Olivia Chow at City Hall if they had any questions or concerns.

Interestingly, the letter included the instruction, "NO PHONE CALLS OR EMAILS PLEASE!" The clear call to action in the letter is not actually to vacate the park, but rather an exhortation asking unhoused people to show up in person and protest at city hall and direct their concerns to the city’s new mayor.

This letter is a prime example of the marketing and public relations concept “fear, uncertainty and doubt”. Meanwhile, McNally has asserted that the motivation behind the letter is “hate for the unhoused” and a CTV journalist has, without evidence, claimed that the source of the letter must be someone who wants to clear the encampment.

Given the use of fear and uncertainty to push unhoused residents toward a clear call to action, this looks a lot more like a clumsy or lazy attempt to astroturf a pressure campaign targeting the Mayor and council, than it does a serious threat to encampment residents. Of course, the use of a city seal on the document does certainly classify its dissemination as forgery, a hybrid offense under the Canadian criminal code.

Canadian journalists are often not critical enough in cases where the dissemination of false information is suspected or alleged or where political fakery is a plausible explanation. By definition, the dissemination of this letter amounts to a ‘psychological operation’ targeting a vulnerable population of unhoused people.

This is not the first time fake eviction notices have been disseminated in Toronto. In 2021 an unknown group “BuycottPalestine” (whose Instagram page has since been deleted) distributed mock eviction notices to Jewish residents. The dissemination of this notice allegedly caused fear and alarm, and also gave right wing media and pro-Israel organizatoins an opportunity to discredit pro-Palestine activists.

Federal agencies including the military, have also engaged in this kind of intentional dissemination of falsified information. In 2020, the distribution of a letter purporting to be from conservation authorities announcing the reintroduction of grey wolves to an area of Nova Scotia, was traced back to Canadian Forces reservists who are believed to have been experimenting with psychological operations.

It’s  also not inconceivable that a foreign government could engage in similar activities to undermine social stability or even just to create a rumour that can be reported internationally, embarassing a politician. Toronto's new progressive mayor has already been the target of multiple disinformation campaigns. In 2019 a study noted that homeless voters were more susceptible to disinformation. A conservative political candidate or far right actor could disseminate such a letter in the hopes of causing a scandal targeting Toronto’s progressive mayor.

At least one far right actor who previously targeted Toronto’s Mayor Chow and has been accused of past fakery resides directly in the Allan Gardens neighbourhood. There are certainty plenty of plausible motivations for the dissemination of the communications beyond the one which CTV attributed to the letter.

Both McNally (the originating source of claims about the letter) and Joanna Lavoie, the CTV journalist who reported on it are connected to Jennifer Evans a poverty “advocate” with a blue check Twitter account who claims to raise funds directly for homeless individuals. Evans is linked to the ecosystem of personalities around the Canadian Anti Hate Network, a controversial organization with pro-Israel leadership and has been threatened with a lawsuit by Caryma Sa’d, one of the network’s primary antagonists. Sa’d and her broader network at Crier Media (which also boasts relationships with extreme conservative Charles Adler and PPC leader Maxime Bernier’s lawyer, Mark Bourrie) were actually involved in promoting the same Allan Gardens area resident accused of other fakery, prior to his exposure.

Joanna Lavoie, author of the CTV piece has social media interactions with Evans going back to 2021. Evans campaigned for Chloe Brown, a strange pro-capitalist candidate who once lobbied for a partnership between Epstein linked corporation Apollo Asset Management’s Woodbine Entertainment and Therme, the company behind a controversial spa Ontario’s provincial government is trying to build at Ontario Place, formerly the site of casino proposed by Zionist megadonor Sheldon Adelson. The architecture firm Diamond Schmitt, behind the Therme spa counts the Israeli foreign ministry in Tel Aviv among its previous projects. Evans, until recently had pro-Palestinian iconography on her Twitter profile. Styled by Evans and others as a “progressive”, despite being described by Springmag as a “centrist”,  Brown came 7th with 18,000 votes.

It's unclear at this time why a CTV journalist who is chummy with an opponent of the current mayor opened her story with an unverified claim about the motivation behind the letter.

The City of Toronto has officially affirmed the falsity of the letter through a statement provided to CP24 on a Wednesday afternoon. Russell Baker, a media affairs official with the city confirmed l that the letter discovered at Allan Gardens is counterfeit and bears no official association with the City. Baker emphasized that the threatened enforcement actions are not being carried out.

Addressing this deceptive and misleading act, Baker expressed disappointment and labeled it as unacceptable. The City urges individuals who come across such fraudulent letters to report them to the appropriate channel, 311.