The plight of the park-dwelling homeless of Abbotsford went before a B.C. Supreme Court justice on Friday, where the city’s defence team got on the offensive and made moves to delegitimize the case. The Pivot Legal Society brought forth the suit on behalf of the B.C./Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS), a coalition group for the homeless and marginalized. The Society is aiming to overturn several anti-homeless by-laws in Abbotsford, such as a law against camping in public parks.
The defence team for the city argues that, because the lawsuit is on behalf of a group of people rather than a single plaintiff, the whole case should be tossed out by the judge. It’s an interesting tactic, and it completely disregards why a coalition group of this kind might exist—homeless people may have a difficult time representing themselves in court. The DWS and Pivot Legal Society understand this reality, and work to represent the people who cannot adequately represent themselves in our system.
However, we’re not sure that the city that would like to see the homeless kicked out of all parks has much of a problem kicking them out of the courts too, especially a city with a track record like Abbotsford. In June 2013, the municipal government found itself in hot water after city employees were reported to have scattered chicken manure around park land known to be lived on by several homeless people.
The mayor apologized and called the entire incident “a stain” on the city’s reputation (literally), but reports that city police officers were slashing and pepper spraying tents where homeless resided surfaced only weeks later.
By the time 2014 came around, the city of Abbotsford stepped up their bullying game to levels of higher judicial authority. In February, after the provincial government offered Abbotsford $2.5 million to build and run a homeless shelter downtown, the city council voted to reject the money, citing that the shelter would be bad for local business.
So, if rejecting the construction of a homeless shelter isn’t bad enough, the city of Abbotsford wants to kick the downtrodden out of their parks too. The by-laws in question would give police officers the legal right to harass and arrest the homeless. D.J. Larkin, one of Pivot’s lawyers on the case, has said that these laws make being homeless itself “illegal“. Larkin believes that, if this case is successful, it has the “potential to change the legal landscape for homeless and marginalized people all across Canada.”
We’ll be watching to see how this one turns out.