Pivot Legal Society fights for Abbotsford's homeless to be heard in court

Vancouver, B.C. [July 3]—Pivot Legal Society will defend a lawsuit seeking to protect the rights of Abbotsford's homeless people. 

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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.

On Friday, July 4, the B.C. Supreme Court will hear the City of Abbotsford's argument for why the courts should not allow a Pivot Legal Society-led lawsuit that would recognize access to safe shelter as a basic human right. 
The City of Abbotsford is seeking to strike down the lawsuit brought forward by the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS) on behalf of the city's homeless population. The lawsuit contends that the city's bylaws preventing access to safe shelter are unconstitutional. A decision B.C. Supreme Court on Friday in favour of the city would deny Abbotsford's homeless from having their case heard in court.
“The City of Abbotsford is using laws to push people into alleys and under bridges, putting them in harm's way and making their lives incredibly unsafe,” says DJ Larkin, lawyer at Pivot Legal Society. “People living on our streets have the least access to the justice system to uphold their basic rights. Instead of taking action to solve homelessness and protect all Canadians, our governments are denying our most vulnerable citizen's access to housing and access to justice.”
Abbotsford’s Parks Bylaw prohibits anyone from being present in any park overnight. In combination with the city’s Street and Traffic and Good Neighbour bylaws, erecting a basic survival structure—or even sleeping in a car—is prohibited throughout Abbotsford. However, homeless residents in Abbotsford argue 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. If successful, the Pivot Legal Society and DWS lawsuit would eliminate the bylaws and recognize access to safe shelters a basic human right.
“The city should be taking steps to fight homelessness instead of fighting people without homes,” says Doug Smith, a member of DWS. “We deserve to be recognized as citizens whose rights need to be protected.”
The B.C. Supreme Court hearing is the latest in a series of actions against the homeless by the City of Abbotsford. Last summer, city staffers admitted to dumping chicken manure to deter homeless people from living along Gladys Avenue—across the street from the only adult emergency shelter in Abbotsford. Later, just five days before Christmas, the city oversaw the dismantling of tents and structures in Jubilee Park, sending people to the streets without safe shelter. And earlier this year the mayor and city council voted against a limited bylaw amendment that would have allowed the development of a low-barrier housing project for which the province has offered millions of dollars to fund, citing concern from business owners that it would attract homeless people into their downtown.
“We deserve to be heard in court,” says Nick Zurowski, a member of DWS and resident of the Jubilee Park camp. “Nothing about us, without us.”
Pivot lawyer DJ Larkin will be available to address media prior to the hearing on Friday, July 4 at 09:30 outside of the BC Supreme Court building at 800 Smith St., Vancouver, B.C.
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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 has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy.
For additional information or to schedule an interview, please contact:
Kevin Hollett
Communications Manager