British Columbia

Many implicated in manure dump at B.C. homeless site

Managers from multiple departments were involved in the decision to dump chicken manure on a known gathering site for the homeless, internal documents from the City of Abbotsford show.
Managers from several city departments were responsible 2:28

Managers from multiple departments in the City of Abbotsford were involved in the decision to dump chicken manure on a known gathering site for the homeless, internal documents show.

The manure was dumped at a site along Gladys Road in early June to deter homeless people and apparent drug users from congregating there.

At the time, city manager George Murray apologized and took responsibility for the action.

Emails obtained by the CBC through an access to information request show that managers from the city's bylaw, forestry and parks departments were all involved.

In one email, dated June 3, Eric Fong, a City of Abbotsford forestry official, refers to an agreement between officials from Abbotsford's bylaws and roads departments "to spread the chicken manure around [a] tree to deter homeless encampments being set up under it."

He emailed the city's acting director of parks services, James Arden, for approval to go ahead with "the manure dump" the following morning.

Arden approved the request within minutes, noting: "I am glad that we were able to get the product for free and avoid cutting down a healthy trees [sic] to see if that resolves the issue," he added.

Prostitution claim

The tree — called "the Honey tree" in the subject of the email  — refers to a cedar outside the Salvation Army building in Abbotsford, where homeless people often set up camps.

After the story broke in the media, a city official named Shawn Gurney wrote to Arden on June 6, saying: "For what it's worth, although I wasn't directly dealing with this one, I believe the intent had nothing to do with homeless folks. I believe it was done to deter acts of prostitution and drug use occurring in view of the public under the tree."

Arden seems to confirm that intention, writing back, "I know, but it has become something else in the eye of the beholder!"

He also suggests that the city manager took the fall for his decision, writing, "I own the decision and George [Murray] is owning it for the entire City team."

When contacted, Murray would not comment if any manager had faced discipline over the decision.

Despite the claim in the email, Const. Ian MacDonald of the Abbotsford Police Department said no police officers were present during the dumping of the chicken manure at the Gladys Road site.

The emails are part of a months-long discussion over the homeless gathering site, with ideas ranging from cutting down the tree, to trimming shrubs around it, and even dumping concrete blocks under it.

Advocates for the homeless say the city has waged an "ongoing war on the homeless," driving people "from spot to spot around Abbotsford like nuisance animals," while failing to provide a viable housing alternative.

Other Metro Vancouver cities like Port Moody and Surrey have also used the chicken manure tactic to drive out the homeless, and have been forced to apologize following public outrage.

With files from the CBC's Chad Pawson