We Won! Now what?

Yesterday morning I sat in a room, gathered with a legal team that was my family for the largest trial in Pivot Legal Society’s history, and waited for a decision to land in my inbox. The decision.

As the clock ticked, time seemed to stand still. Then someone yelled, “It’s here!” Time rushed forward as we sped through the 80-plus pages of the BC Supreme Court’s decision in our unprecedented lawsuit seeking to protect the rights of homeless people in Abbotsford. My breath caught as I read the Chief Justice’s words and realized:

WE WON. 

The Court held that bylaws that prohibit homeless people from sleeping and sheltering in public spaces violate their constitutionally protected right to liberty and security of the person. The Court declared the bylaws inoperative from 7pm until 9am, and denied the city’s request to permanently prohibit people from camping. 

Bylaws that criminalize people on the street are not constitutional.

The Court found that displacement of homeless people “not only makes supporting people more challenging, but also results in adverse health and safety risks.” It is now for government to find a new approach, including possibly designating lands for more than overnight camping where people can “sleep, rest, shelter, stay warm, eat, wash and attend to personal hygiene.”

Immediately my thoughts turned to our clients, the incredibly courageous group of homeless folks I’ve worked with – and come to know and love and respect – for the past two years.

During the six-week long trial this summer, our clients took to the stand to tell the Court about what it’s like to be criminalized for being homeless. One after another, they told the court about having their possessions taken or destroyed by city staff and police, how the ground they slept on was covered in chicken manure and how constant displacement makes it almost impossible to stay warm, get rested, or find housing.

These anti-homeless bylaws were used to make them invisible. The city wanted them to go away. They refused. And now they’ve won.

Finally, our clients can choose a location for the night and know that no one can tell them that they can’t be there. No one can tell them they’re not welcome. No one can make them go away.

This decision is a tremendous victory for our people in Abbotsford and for all homeless people in Canada.

The fight for housing justice doesn’t end here. For too long, the federal and provincial governments have passed responsibility for managing our national homeless crisis on to cities, with disastrous results.

We’re just getting started in achieving a right to housing for everyone. I hope you’ll join us.