By Jesse Wegenast. My name is Jesse Wegenast, and I am a pastor at The 5 and 2 Ministries. Earlier today, myself and Ward Draper (also with The 5 and 2), along with members of the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, met with lawyers from a Pivot Legal Society and Conroy & Company to discuss pursuing legal action against the City of Abbotsford in both Small Claims Court and with the Human Rights Tribunal. We believe that both potential suits are not only viable, but also essential to improve the decayed state of discourse and action in this city towards those citizens who are homeless and/or use drugs.
This potential suit comes amidst a myriad of other issues in Abbotsford surrounding these citizens: the investigation into the Abbotsford Police Department regarding homeless camp destruction, the active lawsuit attacking Abbotsford’s Harm Reduction by-law, the fight to see a 20-unit supported housing development be built in the face of intense opposition, and the current blitz of overdoses occurring due to the presence of fentanyl in heroin, all of which have occurred in the shadow of the now infamous dumping of chicken manure at a homeless camp.
Mayor and Council have yet to make a genuine attempt to address any of these issues. Rather, all discussion of these topics at the City seems to be taking place within the Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC), a largely impotent committee at the City.
I have just come from hosting a meeting of the Abbotsford chapter of the Drug War Survivors. During the meeting, an individual suggested that someone “straighten out the [media’s] story” of what has happening in the past two months in Abbotsford regarding the abuse and discrimination of our homeless and/or drug-using citizens.
The following is my attempt, starting with the dumping of chicken manure at a homeless camp:
June 4: The City of Abbotsford bylaw department dumps a load of chicken manure at the “Happy Tree”, a popular meeting place/camp for the Abbotsford’s homeless.
June 5: Advocate James Breckenridge publishes a story on news site AbbotsfordToday.ca condemning the incident. The story receives national and international coverage. City Manager George Murray takes “full responsibility” for the actions of City staff.
June 6: The City’s bylaw department remove the manure from the site. Later, Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman attends the “Happy Tree” and apologizes to those affected.
June 12: At an extra-ordinary meeting of the Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC), at which myself and Ward Draper were asked to present, I brought forth allegations that the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) often slashed and maced tents at empty though active homeless camps. An Inspector with the APD who was in attendance discussed the allegations afterwards, and he informed me that an investigation in to the incidents would commence shortly. Additionally, Rod Santiago of Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) made a presentation regarding the erection of a 20-unit supported housing project funded by BC Housing with the aim of housing homeless males in a supported environment.
June 17: The APD announces that the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner will be conducting an investigation into my claims.
During the following period, a disturbing number of overdoses began to occur among opioid users in Abbotsford (at least 8 in the past month). Additionally, the homeless camp closure working group was reconvened.
Early July: The Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) begins to circulate a petition against the proposed ACS housing project. Emails to ADBA members include inaccurate information regarding the nature and scope of the project.
July 12: The ADBA presents at ASDAC, stating that there is no possible chance that they will support the housing project no matter what evidence of its benefit to the city is presented. Objections to their stance by ASDAC members are ignored.
Which brings us to today’s meetings.
There is a palpable amount of anger, sadness, and frustration among many individuals who live on the margins of society in Abbotsford. The actions of both city officials and the police department, coupled with the inaction of most everyone else to advocate is the reason.
Abbotsford, caught between small-town charms and big-city issues, seems to be having an identity crisis, and ought to be having a crisis of conscience.
Jesse Wegenast is a pastor at The 5 and 2 Ministries