British Columbia

Vancouver encampment residents call Prince George ruling allowing homeless camp a 'landmark victory'

Separated by nearly 800 kilometres, residents of a homeless camp in Vancouver are celebrating a B.C. Supreme Court ruling in Prince George that’s allowing a large encampment to remain. 

Prince George lawyer says ruling to allow tents to remain setting precedent that's 'one step too far'

On Oct. 22, Honourable Chief Justice Christopher E. Hickson ruled that the homeless camp in Prince George, also known as Moccasin Flats, will be allowed to remain due to a lack of suitable alternatives for residents to move to. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Separated by nearly 800 kilometres, residents of a homeless camp in Vancouver are celebrating a B.C. Supreme Court ruling in Prince George that's allowing a large encampment to remain. 

"It's really incredible," said Fiona York, a community organizer and advocate for the encampment at Vancouver's CRAB Park.

"It's very heartening to see this happening, and we're very happy and hopeful and pleased and in solidarity with our friends in Prince George."

On Oct. 22, Honourable Chief Justice Christopher E. Hinkson ruled that the homeless camp in Prince George, also known as Moccasin Flats, will be allowed to remain due to a lack of suitable alternatives for residents to move to. 

The decision comes after the city filed an injunction in August to dismantle two tent cities, including Moccasin Flats, and another located closer to the downtown core, called the Splits.

It sparked outrage from advocates who said the injunction would leave nearly 75 residents, most of whom are Indigenous, evicted with no adequate housing options.

In a press release, residents of CRAB Park call the ruling a "landmark victory." 

York says it's not often that a decision is made in favour of allowing encampments. She said residents were evicted from a parking lot in CRAB Park in 2020, when an injunction from the Vancouver Port Authority was granted.

"[Residents are often] dispersed and people don't have a place to go or they're dispersed in such a way that it's not dignified, it's not respectful… And then here we have a decision that actually responds to this municipal push to disperse people from the park," she said.

In the spring, B.C. Housing says its workers visited encampments in Vancouver, such as the one in Strathcona Park, to relocate residents to new accommodation and shelter space, along with the help of the city. 

Housing Minister David Eby said a lot of the moves are temporary as new units of supportive housing are built.

While advocates acknowledge that moving people into housing is the right thing to do, some argue that the process should have been handled differently with more consultation with encampment residents.

Still York hopes the Prince George ruling sets a precedent for future legal actions that look to dismantle homeless camps.

Prince George lawyer says ruling 'one step too far'

While legal counsel for the city of Prince George agrees that this ruling is precedent-setting, they say it is an overreach that will be an issue with future cases.

"I think in a continuum of these cases, we've gone, frankly, one step too far, one tent too far, one bridge too far," said Troy DeSouza, managing partner with Dominion GovLaw LLP and council to the city of Prince George. 

Prior to the ruling, DeSouza said those who are unhoused are authorized to erect temporary shelters in locations approved by the municipality, provided that they're taken down the next day.

This case expands legal protections, he says, allowing those who experience homelessness to stay during the day as well as camp overnight.

"In this case, there's a distinction that's taken an evolution in these tent city litigations, which now has this requirement of suitable housing and daytime facilities, which has never been a consideration," he said.

"I think there's a precedent that's been set, and certainly, I think from a practical point of view, it would be very difficult for the people, for the government level that's in charge of housing… to determine what exactly is suitable housing, right? Because that certainly may well be in the eye of the beholder."

Residents were evicted from a parking lot in CRAB Park in 2020, when an injunction from the Vancouver Port Authority was granted. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For now, York says she hopes this case will result in less barriers for homeless encampments like the one at CRAB Park, but recognizes that there's still a lot of work to do to ensure the rights of those experiencing homelessness.

With files from Kate Partridge

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