Abbotsford homeless file human rights complaint as City prepares to clear out encampment

For Immediate Release

November 27, 2013

Abbotsford - Homeless people in the Municipality of Abbotsford B.C, approximately 70km east of Vancouver, have filed an action at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal demanding equal treatment and an end to harassment by the City and the Abbotsford Police Department. Six homeless individuals, along with the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, have filed the human rights complaint on behalf of all homeless people in Abbotsford. 

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.

This legal action was trigged when, in the spring of 2013, City workers smeared chicken manure on a homeless camp and police slashed and bear-sprayed tents and property. The complaint alleges that, beyond these events, the homeless in Abbotsford have been treated as outsiders and have been subjected to treatment designed to push them out of the community over a sustained period of time. 

“Everyone in Abbotsford, regardless of their housing situation, has the right to security, to access public space, and to be treated in a non-discriminatory manner” says Pivot lawyer, DJ Larkin.  “We are helping this group of people defend their rights because police and municipal officials cannot use harassment to drive marginalized people out of their city. Manure and bear spray are not a solution to the complex social and economic problem of housing insecurity.” 

Harvey Williams, who has lived in Abbotsford since 2006, has been homeless on and off over the years. He used to sleep outdoors with no shelter until a resident offered him a tent. Once he erected the shelter, he alleges that harassment began: 

“One person stabbed my tent, and other individuals yelled at me and told me I couldn’t stay in the park,” says Williams. “In early 2013, police asked me to leave Grant Park, so I moved my tent to a grassy hill overlooking the park. Somebody set fire to my tent while me and my cat were asleep inside.”

Abbotsford’s homeless community, in collaboration with community organizations, has set up a camp for people living outside. The Jubilee Park camp has been operating since October 21, 2013 without complaints from neighbouring businesses or residents. The residents have set up portable toilets, are cleaning the camp daily, ensuring that the city picks up garbage and have welcomed members of the public and school groups who have come to the camp to learn more about homelessness in Abbotsford. 

“There comes a time when the community has to come together in solidarity, we are showing our strength here at the Jubilee camp” says Barry Shantz, a community organizer with the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors. “The City wants to shut the camp down, regardless of people having nowhere to go, they want to go back to the same old tricks.”

The City announced on Monday November 25, 2013 that they intend to take down the homeless camp in Jubilee Park and dispose of people's belongings without further notice.  The neighbourhood around Jubilee Park, the site of the camp, has long been known as a troubled area of town, but it is currently occupied by people 24 hours a day who are dedicated to creating a safe and supportive community and is welcoming to anyone looking for a place to call home.

There will be a press conference at the camp today, which will include plaintiffs in the human rights case, community organizers, residents of the Jubilee Park camp and Pivot lawyer DJ Larkin. 

What: Press conference on the filing of a lawsuit by Abbotsford’s homeless
When: November 27, 2013, 11:00am

Where: Jubilee Park homeless encampment, 2552 McCallum Park, Abbotsford BC

Media Contacts: 
DJ Larkin, lawyer, Pivot Legal Society – (604) 340-8422, [email protected]

Barry Shantz, community organizer, Drug War Survivors - (778) 241-3661, [email protected]