British Columbia

Abbotsford homeless crackdown goes to B.C. Supreme Court

A court case examining whether or not homeless people have the right to live on city property goes in front of a B.C. Supreme Court judge today.

Case could change 'legal landscape for homeless' people across the country

After being forced to vacate a site on Gladys Avenue in October, homeless people and their supporters set up a homeless protest camp in Jubilee Park. They refused to leave until just before Christmas, after the city won a court injunction to force the campers out. (CBC)

A court case examining whether or not homeless people have the right to live on city property goes in front of a B.C. Supreme Court judge today.

The Pivot Legal Society is asking the court to strike down bylaws in Abbotsford, a city in the Fraser Valley just east of the Metro Vancouver region boundary, that make it illegal to camp in city parks.

D.J. Larkin, one of Pivot's lawyers, says the City of Abbotsford is trampling on the rights of some of the country's most vulnerable people, and its bylaws effectively make it 'illegal' to be homeless.

"Across Canada, we don't have a national housing strategy. What we do have is municipalities left to manage people living on their streets and many of them are taking aggressive approaches to that," she said.

The legal advocacy group is challenging three of Abbotsford's local bylaws, including one that makes it illegal to set up a camp or a structure on public property, and another making it illegal to sleep in a parked car.

Larkin says the court's decision in this case could limit local laws which deter the homeless from sleeping, cooking and socializing on public land.

"This case really has the potential to change the legal landscape for homeless and marginalized people all across Canada," Larkin said.

Mayor stands firm

The city gained notoriety last year after staff spread chicken manure on one site used by the homeless.

In June 2013, Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman apologized in person after learning that city staff spread chicken manure on land used as a camp by homeless people.

Mayor Bruce Banman later apologized for the incident, saying he knew nothing of the plan. He says cities like his are in a bind.

"It comes down to financial dollars, resources and expertise. Cities are supposed to look after really exciting things like water and sewer," he told CBC News.

Banman says despite Abbotsford's perceived hard-line approach, the city is doing its best to help the homeless — but he said it won't be dropping the controversial anti-loitering bylaws.

With files from the CBC's Greg Rasmussen and Tina Lovgreen


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