British Columbia

Victoria homeless activist on hunger strike

A homeless man is threatening to starve himself to death while in jail to protest a Victoria bylaw against sleeping in public places.

A homeless man is threatening to starve himself to death while in jail to protest a Victoria bylaw against sleeping in public places.

David Arthur Johnston, who is currently serving a nine-month jail sentence for the offence, has not eaten for the past 30 days.

He has told authorities at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctiional Centre that he would rather die than stop fighting for the right to sleep in public parks.

Johnston, 34, has spent the past two years in and out of jail as a result of his ongoing fight for the rights of homeless people.

He was arrested earlier this year for sleeping on the grounds of St. Ann's Academy, a former convent now used for government offices.

The city of Victoria has a street camping bylaw, which police enforce by moving people along.

Jill Cader, who is also homeless, says Johnston is not a criminal. She blames the system, saying it puts homeless people in a no-win situation because there are only so many shelter beds available.

"During the summer, they cut back because they feel it's nice enough to sleep outside. There's the contradiction. It's nice to sleep outside, so they cut back funding for the beds. Yet if people sleep outside, they're arrested.

"What's it going to take to make people realize what's going on, that the homeless need help?"

Hunger strike taking a toll

Johnston has lost 25 pounds as a result of his month-long hunger strike, and has told B.C. Corrections officials not to intervene if his condition deteriorates.

His mother, Lea Johnston, says she won't intervene either, saying her son is "doing the right thing."

"You just can't give up when you believe something so strongly," she said.

Meanwhilejail officials say they cannot prevent Johnston from continuing his hunger strike, even if it threatens his life.

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