bc-091209-homeless-camping-ruling

Victoria police arrested five campers after they refused to remove tents at Beacon Hill Park in Octiober 2008. ((CBC))

Homeless people can camp temporarily in public parks if municipalities can't provide them with sufficient alternative shelter, British Columbia's highest court ruled Wednesday.

The B.C. Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that struck down a Victoria bylaw banning camping in city parks by the homeless.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge had ruled in October 2008 that it was unconstitutional for Victoria to restrict overnight camping in its parks if all shelter beds in the city are full.

The city appealed, backed by the provincial government and the Union of B.C. Municipalities, arguing among other things that the ruling intruded on the city's right to make laws.

Camping right limited

However, the appeal court said the trial judge did not improperly intrude on those rights and left it to the city to find solutions to the problem.

While upholding the decision, the appeal court agreed to alter the wording of the ruling to clarify the case. It said there are limits to the camping rights of the homeless, and that Victoria could resolve the issue by making more shelter space available.

After the original B.C. Supreme Court decision, Victoria brought in a revised bylaw that banned camping in parks during daylight hours, and a provincial court judge upheld this in a decision last February. That decision also was superseded by Wednesday's ruling.