British Columbia

Abbotsford homeless lawsuit closing arguments begin at B.C. Supreme Court

Closing arguments begin today in a case that pits the homeless against the city of Abbotsford, B.C. in a bid for the right to tent and sleep on city property.

Case could have national implications if court sides with homeless campers

Closing arguments begin on Friday in a case that pits the homeless against the City of Abbotsford, B.C. in a bid for the right to tent and sleep on city property. In 2014, many residents refused to leave, despite threats of an injunction from the city. (CBC)

Closing arguments begin on Friday in a case that pits the homeless against the City of Abbotsford, B.C. in a bid for the right to tent and sleep on city property.

Six homeless campers filed a human rights complaint in 2013 against the city alleging they faced discrimination after city officials sprayed chicken manure on a homeless encampment. Police officers slashed and pepper sprayed tents in another incident.

Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman apologized for the chicken manure incident two years ago. But the efforts to uproot the encampment sparked the B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit.

The  B.C./Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors represents the homeless campers in the lawsuit and it's suing the city over three different bylaws, one of which makes it illegal to set up tents in the city.

Its lawyers are expected to argue that the city is criminalizing homelessness and displacing people with no concern to the effect.

The group's lawyer, D.J. Larkin with Pivot Legal Society, says this case is about protecting the constitutional rights of the homeless, one of the most vulnerable groups in Canadian society.

"People living on our streets have the right to the basic necessities of life. They have the right to somewhere to sleep. A way to shelter themselves. To food and rest and to live in community, " says Larkin.

Larkin says they are not arguing for unrestricted occupation of parks or public spaces, but a balance of the rights of those who rely on public space for survival.

​Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman says told CBC in the past that the camp is a safety issue and must go. (Catherine Rolfsen/CBC)

Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman says told CBC in the past that the camp is a safety issue and must go.

"We have people using open barbecues, open heaters, candles, the tents and clumped together, this is a real fire hazard," said Banman.

If the court sides with the group representing homeless campers, it could set a precedent for groups in other municipalities to challenge similar bylaws.

The case is expected to wrap by next week.

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