British Columbia

Protesters say law allows 'kidnapping' of homeless

Advocates for the homeless on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside are comparing a new law aimed at helping street people to kidnapping.

Intent is to clean up streets for Olympics, say opponents

Advocates for the homeless on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside are comparing a new law aimed at helping street people to kidnapping.

Legislation passed through the B.C. legislature Nov. 17 gives police the power to take homeless people to shelters during severe weather, but cannot force them inside.

The legislation was called the Assistance to Shelter Act. Advocates refer to it as the "Olympic Kidnapping Act."

They said it's been created to clear street people from Vancouver sidewalks for the 2010 Winter Games in February.

"It's unworkable, and I have no doubt that it will be found unconstitutional," said lawyer Laura Track of the Pivot Legal Society.

"Court challenges to legislation like this take time. And here we are 80 days from the Games and the provincial government has managed to ram the bill through, just in time for the Olympics," Track said.

Track and about two dozen people protested outside a downtown police station Wednesday.

Concerns about confrontation

The B.C. housing minister has said the intention of the legislation is to prevent more homeless people from dying in the cold. But Track said the law doesn't make sense because there aren't enough shelter spaces.

One protester feared there could also be violent disputes between police and the homeless.

"The bill allows the provincial government to force the two main players, the police and the homeless, into potentially violent conflict, against their better interest," said Sarah Stevenson of Vancouver Action.

Others said the legislation violates the rights of those who prefer homelessness to staying in shelters.

"It's their choice to sleep outside in the cold, in the wet. It's theirs," said Stella August of the group Power to Women.

The bill has yet to receive royal assent from B.C.'s lieutenant governor.

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