BC Supreme Court rules that homeless may set up temporary shelter in parks
By Mercedes Deutscher, News Editor
Wednesday marked a landmark victory for the homeless, particularly those fighting for a place to set up temporary shelter.
The BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors sued the City of Abbotsford after city workers used chicken manure to disperse a homeless camp. Another Abbotsford homeless camp was dispersed after police pepper-sprayed residents and destroyed their tents.
“We are deeply apologetic for any hurt this may have caused. I personally feel incredibly bad,” said then-Abbotsford mayor Bruce Banman to CBC regarding the manure incident.
After being heard before the BC Supreme Court, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson decided that Abbotsford’s bylaw—which prohibits homeless people from camping in parks overnight—violated Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The court wrote an 81-page judgment. Although the ruling will allow for the homeless to set up tents in parks, some limits were put into place.
“A minimally impairing response to balancing that need with the interests of other users of developed parks would be to allow overnight shelters to be erected in public spaces between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. the following day,” read the judgment. The language in the ruling will prohibit long-term camps from being assembled.
Hinkson criticized the actions taken by the City of Abbotsford, calling them “disgraceful and worthy of the court’s disapproval.”
It remains yet to be seen if the city will agree with the BC Supreme Court ruling, or if they will decide to take the decision to the BC Court of Appeal.
Henry Braun, Mayor of Abbotsford, believes that the homeless in the city are camping in the parks despite having other shelter options.
“Some of them, they just want to be left alone: ‘Leave me alone, I want to camp.’ And they use that term: ‘camping.’” said Braun to the Globe and Mail. “I’m not sure what to do with that.”
The lawsuit parallels another case that took place in Victoria in 2009. The BC Court of Appeal made the decision then that homeless would be allowed to use tents as shelter to sleep in public parks overnight.
Although some hope that the Abbotsford decision will influence other municipalities to change their bylaws to accommodate overnight tent shelters in parks, others are skeptical. Margot Young, a law professor at UBC, is surprised that more municipalities didn’t learn from the 2009 Victoria case. While the decision helped in some ways, it continued to create problems for the homeless community, who are still constantly subject to police raids.
Meanwhile, members of the Drug War Survivors say the ruling is only a quick fix to a larger problem, as having a space for a tent city would allow for more provisions, such as garbage cans and washrooms, to create a better environment for the homeless.
“Being alone is the worst thing in the world,” said Harvey Clause, a homeless resident in Abbotsford, to the Vancouver Sun. “Sometimes, that’s why it’s important to have a tent city, to be a community again.”