FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 3, 2022
Residents of the Hastings Street Tent City (represented by the law firm Arvay Finlay LLP) have sought a Judicial Review of the Fire Order issued by Vancouver Fire Rescue Services in late July 2022. The review of this Fire Order and the City of Vancouver’s enforcement actions highlight the gross disparities that people who rely on public space face as they seek shelter in the community now known as the Hastings Tent City.
Arvay Finlay is representing two members of the Hastings Tent City. As one plaintiff, Stephanie Vandenberg, states:
“I understand the fire department’s concerns about fire safety. But no one is more concerned about the risk of fire than we are. It’s our lives that are at stake. In my experience, Hastings is one of the safest places to shelter in terms of fire safety. We stick together in this community and keep each other safe. If I’m forced to move, I have nowhere else to go, and I will be more vulnerable to arson because I will be alone. I would be far more concerned about the risk of fire living in an SRO than on Hastings. The doors are often blocked inside, and the fire extinguishers don’t work. People die all the time in fires in SROs. I would feel scared to live inside one of them.”
I would be far more concerned about the risk of fire living in an SRO than on Hastings
Since the Fire Order was issued, the conditions on Hastings Street have garnered national attention and outcry. Every day, residents of the Hastings Tent City are forced to make decisions about their survival – including maintaining their personal property in the face of decampment efforts, navigating access to health, hygiene, and social services, and enduring increasingly hostile public and political discourse that dehumanizes them based on their social condition.
While housing and shelter options remain inadequate, members of the Hastings Tent City must constantly balance competing safety concerns. Hamish Ballantyne, an OUR STREETS Organizers states:
“Time and time again government actors point to encampments as being hotspots of danger, citing violence, public health, or fire risk. Yet these risks exist everywhere - including substandard “housing” like single room occupancy hotels. So far, this year alone, catastrophic fires have made six separate buildings in the DTES uninhabitable, displacing hundreds of people. Meanwhile, residents of the Hastings encampment are constantly watching out for each other, preventing fires in each other’s tents, and putting them out. The reality is that the encampment is scapegoated so the city doesn’t have to face up to the fact that the existing SRO stock housing is gravely inadequate and dangerous.”
The reality is that the encampment is scapegoated so the city doesn’t have to face up to the fact that the existing SRO stock housing is gravely inadequate and dangerous.
Residents of Hastings Tent City and their supporters remain hopeful that the court will recognize that fire safety cannot be considered in isolation from all the harms and safety risks that people face while sheltering outside. Mass displacement, whether through street sweeps or enforcement of Fire Orders, is not a reasonable response that respects the rights of unhoused people. The City and Vancouver Fire Rescue Services can collaborate with directly-impacted people to rescind the Fire Order and move forward with a harm-reduction based approach to fire safety for people who rely on public space.
To arrange an interview please contact Taz Khandwani
Background on Vandenberg and Blue v. Fire Chief of the City of Vancouver Fire Department and City of Vancouver (BCSC File No. S227764)
This case, seeking judicial review of the Fire Chief’s order, was filed on Thursday September 29, 2022, at BC Supreme Court. The respondents have 21 days to reply.
The petition asks the court to strike down the Fire Chief’s July 25, 2022, Order as unreasonable and because it was issued without procedural fairness for people sheltering along Hastings.
The petitioners assert that the Fire Chief did not properly consider and weigh the consequences of the Order on tent city residents, nor did the Fire Chief consider whether other options were available, particularly in light of the right to shelter in public space recognized by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The petitioners also argue that the process leading up to the Order was unfair because the residents had no notice of the Order and no opportunity to address the Fire Chief and their concerns.
About Arvay Finlay LLP
Arvay Finlay LLP is a litigation boutique with a focus on public law, appeals, and complex cases. They bring expertise in both statutory appeals and proceedings under the Judicial Review Procedure Act, as well as experience in numerous constitutional cases involving matters of constitutional law including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
About Hastings Street Tent City
The Hastings Street Tent City describes a community of people sheltering in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, between the 0 Block of West Hastings and the 300 Block of East Hastings, as well as arterial streets. This Tent City was previously subject to daily displacement in the form of street sweeps. On July 1, 2022, the Vancouver Police Department announced its withdrawal from the street sweeps; the following months, however, have been characterized by inadequate civic services and the continued presence of a large, unhoused community with no viable housing options. Currently, the Hastings Street Tent City is receiving support from numerous non-governmental and grassroots organizations, including the Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War, Defund 604 Network, Pivot Legal Society, and Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users.
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.