Vancouver's ban on homeless street sleeping challenged

Vancouver bylaws that prevent people from sleeping on city properties are unconstitutional, the Pivot Legal Society claims in a lawsuit it is filing on behalf of a formerly homeless man.

Pivot Legal Society says many city spaces provide harmless places for homeless to sleep

A Vancouver man who was homeless for years is challenging city bylaws in court 2:15

Vancouver bylaws that prevent people from sleeping on streets, in parks or on other city properties are unconstitutional, the Pivot Legal Society claims in a lawsuit it is filing with B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday on behalf of a formerly homeless man.

The society is filing the suit on behalf of Clarence Taylor, 57, who was homeless for nearly three years and says he was ticketed several times and repeatedly harassed by police and city employees when he slept outside.

"It wasn't like he was building a shack on a street corner, or on the beach," said Pivot lawyer Scott Bernstein. "It was basically just a temporary type of thing [so] that he could protect himself from the weather."

The lawyer filing the suit says there are all kinds of harmless spaces on Vancouver city property where the homeless can sleep without impeding anyone. (CBC)

Bernstein said similar bylaws in Victoria have been struck down by the courts, but the Vancouver municipal government has not been swayed by those rulings.

"The city maintains that ... decision doesn't apply to them and they continue to ticket homeless people who are sleeping outdoors in parks or on streets."  

Bernstein said the society is not advocating that people be allowed to block traffic, sleep at bus stops or on the sidewalk, but should be able to use other kinds of spaces.

"The reality is there is whole swaths of city streets, including under overpasses, boulevards, they're not in anybody's way, they're not causing any obstructions," said Bernstein. "We feel that, if people feel they'd feel safest sleeping there, they should be able to sleep there legally."

With files from the CBC's Robert Zimmerman