City by-laws must respect homeless rights

This afternoon City Council is voting on a by-law change that would prevent homeless people from sleeping in tents on sidewalks. The proposed amendments to the Street and Traffic By-law would put in place a prohibition to constructing and occupying any “structure, object, substance, or thing” which would encroach upon a City street. 

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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.

In this By-law, “street” is defined to be the entirety of City property from property line to property line, including not only the paved part where traffic is allowed, but also the sidewalks and grassy boulevards that border the pavement.
In the wake of a housing protest in a park in Victoria, the BC Court of Appeal and the BC Supreme Court found that it is unconstitutional to deprive homeless people of shelter when they have nowhere else to go. Upon legal analysis, we believe that the decision in the Victoria (City) v. Adams case applies to sidewalks and boulevards. Vancouver City by-laws need to reflect the Adams decision and accommodate the right of homeless people to temporary shelter.

In the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympics, we asked City Council to draft temporary guidelines for dealing with shelters, including tents, for homeless people on City property until by-laws could be amended to reflect the Adams decision. We have never seen an interim policy from the City, and now Council is considering an amendment to the by-law that would once again deny homeless people their Charter right to overnight shelter on streets, and ban anyone from setting up tents on sidewalks without a costly permit.

There has not been any public consultation on these new amendments, in fact, the City released the proposed changes less that 48 hours ago.
Pivot lawyer Scott Bernstein will be speaking to council about our concerns with the amendments to the by-law before the vote this afternoon afternoon.