Pivot Legal Society set to defend Abbotsford homeless in landmark trial

Vancouver, B.C. [June 26]Pivot Legal Society is representing a group of homeless people in Abbotsford in a landmark lawsuit that will seek to protect their constitutional rights to security of person. 

The BC Supreme Court will hear BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS) v City of Abbotsford in a six-week trial beginning June 29, 2015. Pivot Legal Society is representing DWS, who are challenging three city bylaws that have been used to displace the homeless population from public spaces throughout Abbotsford.
The DWS lawsuit argues that the city’s actions in displacing homeless people violated their rights under Section 7 (right to life, liberty, and security of the person), Section 15 (equality) and Section 2(c) and 2(d) (Assembly and Association) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
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. If 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.
“The City of Abbotsford, and municipalities across the country, have enforced bylaws in an effort to make homelessness invisible in their communities,” says DJ Larkin, housing lawyer at Pivot Legal Society. “Our clients represent a group of people who, through enforcement of these bylaws, effectively have had their rights taken away from them. It’s important for the court to hear their stories and understand the life-threatening impacts of enforcing laws that leave people with no where to go.”
The City of Abbotsford’s Parks Bylaw, Consolidated Street and Traffic Bylaw, and Good Neighbour Bylaw prohibit sleeping in a park overnight, erecting a basic survival structure, or even sleeping in a car. The challenge to the bylaws stems from a series of actions by city officials against the homeless people in the community, including spread chicken manure on a Gladys Avenue encampment and allegations that police slashed and pepper-sprayed tents at another encampment.
“If we do not allow people the right to sleep at night then how can Canada claim to have any human rights standings at all?” says David Wotherspoon, partner at Fasken Martineau and pro bono counsel representing DWS. “No one wants to be homeless. These people have no choice and sending them away won’t solve Abbotsford’s problem.”
Homeless residents of Abbotsford have argued that there is insufficient shelter space available and that barriers exist preventing many people from accessing it, leaving public spaces as one of the few options available.
In an earlier case related to the eviction of homeless campers from Jubilee Park, BC Supreme Court Justice James Williams agreed, finding there are “persons whose difficulties make the matter of finding acceptable shelter and other fundamental services profoundly challenging.”
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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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