Decision expected after July 24th
By Mike Archer. The City of Abbotsford fought hard, spent a lot of money and was bound and determined to preserve its right to discriminate against homeless people, drug addicts and those who suffer from mental illness by denying them the right to sleep within city limits, while at the same time, denying them shelter where they can be housed.
Cover photo: DWS protest camp (MCC Dignity Village) opposite the Mennonite Central committees property on Gladys Avenue which was erected just days after the City homeless forced protesters out of Jublilee Park with nowhere to go once they had worn out their welcome at the various high-barrier shelters the City forced to accept them.
It was the crux of the argument in court Friday between the City of Abbotsford and the Pivot Legal Society, representing members of the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors (DWS).
The City of Abbotsford defended its Anti-Homeless Bylaws in BC Supreme Court by fighting an attempt by Pivot to have three bylaws stricken down as unconstitutional.
A judgement is expected after July 14th.Lawyers for Pivot argued that a large number of the homeless in Abbotsford are, in effect, caught between a rock and a hard place since the City has no low-barrier shelters (and, in fact, turned one down in February which would have been entirely paid for the the provincial government) and yet has three bylaws which keep those unable to find shelter from camping overnight, sleeping in their cars, cooking or occupaying any municipal park or public property.
City lawyers argued that asking that the City’s Anti-Homeless Bylaws be removed on constitutional grounds would be tantamount to forcing them to provide shelter for homeless people, an argument Pivot refuted.
The two sides argued most of the day citing case law and disputing whether or not the BC/Yukon Drig Wars Survivors (DWS) should have standing in the case, since several of their members are already named defendants in other cases against the City. City lawyers, at one point, argued that the definition of homeless was to vague.
Pivot was seeking to protect the rights of Abbotsford’s homeless people while the City of Abbotsford argued the courts should not allow a Pivot-led lawsuit that would recognize access to safe shelter as a basic human right.
Pivot’s contention was that the city’s bylaws preventing access to safe shelter are unconstitutional.
According to Pivot “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.”In addition to the City’s ultra vires Anti Harm Reduction Bylaw, which was amended/eliminated by City council after longtime anti-harm reduction crusader Simon Gibson retired from over 20 years on council, the City, through its police force, has used Chief Bob Rich’s policy of ‘displace and disperse’, a.k.a. the ‘Abbotsford Shuffle’, enforcing the City’s Anti-Homeless Bylaws by harassing, intimidating, abusing and moving homeless people from one spot to another ever since Councillor John Smith told the national media he had instructed Rich and the APD to deal with the homeless problem in downtown Abbotsford.
The APD has already settled out of court and paid compensation to some of the homeless people it admitted it had abused.The longstanding Abbotsford Homeless Crisis came to a head just before Christmas last year when the City obtained an injunction to have the DWS protest camp at Jubilee Park dismantled and the homeless men and women scattered.
The City of Abbotsford told the judge at that time that there was plenty of shelter space in Abbotsford despite the fact the city has no low-barrier shelters.
Some argue one of the reasons for the growth of the homeless population in the city has primarily been made up of men and women who, while they can gain emergency access when they are facing death due to inclement weather, are unable, by virtue of behaviour issues, religious issues and sobriety issues, to maintain their presence in those high-barrier shelters.
After telling the judge in December that the city has plenty of shelter space, The City of Abbotsford turned down $15.3 million in funding from BC Housing for a supervised, low-barrier shelter for alcohol-dependent men when Mayor Bruce Banman stepped in and voted with the minority of council to nix the project.Banman, along with councillors John Smith, Bill MacGregor and Les Barkman, stood with downtown merchants who argued that taking homeless men off of the streets would put more homeless men on the streets. Banman gave a rambling speech about mom-and-pop small businesses supporting such things as minor hockey before bringing the hammer down on any hopes the City might voluntarily begin helping the homeless. Weeks later Banman presided over the payment of millions of taxpayer dollars to the Calgary Flames in order to have them stop costing the City millions every year in an ill-conceived plan to gaurantee the private business it wouldn’t lose money for ten years.
The deal was struck in order to fill John Smith’s Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre (AESC), a giant hockey rink which was never made available to Abbotsford Minor Hockey for any of their regular games.
Abbotsford gained worldwide attention on June 4, 2013, when Abbotsford Today revealed the Abbotsford Chicken Manure Incident whereby City staff, with knowledge and approval from senior management and the Salvation Army, spread chicken feces to disperse the desperate homeless men and women camped out across from the Salvation Army building on Gladys Avenue.
The DWS moved its protest camp, on Christmas Eve, from Jubilee Park to its new home on Gladys Avenue across from the Mennonite Central Committee‘s (MCC) new building.Since the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA)-led opposition to the low-barrier shelter last February, former ADBA president and major downtown landowner Bob Bos made a motion for the ADBA to set aside $10,000 to support an initiative to find housing solutions for the homeless. That initiative spawned the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society, headed up by former ADBA president Paul MacLeod which came up with a plan to build a n-barrier camp on a piece of private property off the Abbotsford Mission Highway (Abby Digs)
Representatives of the Society have presented their proposal to Banman’s Task Force on Homelessness but both Banman and councillor Henry Braun (who is running for mayor in 2014) have expressed concerns over the location of the camp.
The Valley Permaculture Guild (VPG) and volunteers from the DWS and the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society planted a garden of edible trees at the ABby Digs site June 23.