Vancouver, B.C. [August 6]—A landmark lawsuit involving a group of homeless people in Abbotsford who are challenging the constitutionality of city bylaws that have effectively criminalized their existence will end today.
Pivot Legal Society represents the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS) in the BC Supreme Court lawsuit challenging three City of Abbotsford bylaws that have been used to displace the homeless population from public spaces throughout the city.
During the six-week trial that began on June 29, 2015, the Court has heard from several homeless residents, who have detailed how municipal bylaws have been enforced to displace people sheltering in public spaces despite the fact that many have no other options for shelter. Testimonies describe how homeless campers have had tents pepper sprayed by police, had chicken manure dumped on their camp, and been subjected to countless other displacement tactics that puts their lives at risk.
“It is the city’s responsibility to draft bylaws that respect and protect the constitutional rights of all its citizens,” says DJ Larkin, housing lawyer at Pivot Legal Society. “What the Court has heard throughout this trial is that instead of providing for the safety of these people, the city and police have instead instituted a regime that has displaced its most vulnerable citizens, endangering their lives and leaving them with no place to go.”
Never before has a group of homeless Canadians been able to challenge the constitutionality of how they are treated and displaced by government authorities or police.
The DWS has argued that the city’s actions in displacing homeless people violates their rights under Section 2(c) and 2(d) (assembly and association), Section 7 (right to life, liberty, and security of the person), and Section 15 (equality) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The Charter guarantees everyone equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination,” says Amita Vulimiri, staff lawyer at Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) who worked with Pivot to develop the Section 15 arguments in this case. “The evidence in this trial has shown that nearly all of the homeless campers in Abbotsford have mental or physical disabilities. Many of these campers have an Aboriginal background. By targeting them based on their use of public spaces, the City of Abbotsford’s bylaws and actions discriminate against the homeless campers on the basis of disability and Aboriginal heritage, and violate their right to equal protection and benefit of the law.”
The final submissions in the trial will be heard at the B.C. Supreme Court—Courtroom 101, 651 Carnarvon St., New Westminster, beginning at 10:00am.
A decision is not likely to be delivered until the fall. If the lawsuit is successful, municipal governments could be compelled to shift away from policing and criminalizing homelessness and begin working towards long-term and sustainable solutions for housing those without homes.
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About Pivot Legal Society
Pivot Legal Society is a leading Canadian human rights organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion in Canada. Pivot’s award-winning work includes challenging laws and policies that force people to the margins of society and keep them there. Since 2002 Pivot Legal Society has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy.
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