The City of Abbotsford has been engaging in, what Pivot Legal Society lawyer DJ Larkin refers to as, “considerable delay” in the trial regarding Abbotsford’s overnight camping bylaws which the City uses to control the homeless.
It is the justification for what has been dubbed the ‘Abbotsford Shuffle’ whereby, for over a decade now, homeless men and women are forced by the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) to up and move regularly from their camps on the side of the road to other camps on the side of the road.
The policy has not only failed to reduce homelessness in Abbotsford it has led to a bevy of law suits and human rights complaints against the City of Abbotsford by individuals and members of the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors (DWS).
In addition to those suits, the City has used the courts to enforce its camping bylaws, it’s ultra vires and illegal Anti-Harm Reduction Bylaw (which it amended in January of this year) and, after a three-month long protest in Jubilee Park last winter by the DWS, the City obtained an injunction from a BC Supreme Court Justice to have the men and women forcibly removed by arguing that there is plenty of shelter space available in Abbotsford.
In his Oral reasons for Judgment, released this week – Abbotsford (City) v Shantz NWS156820 oral RFJ, Mr Justice Williams made in clear, in his ruling allowing the City’s application for an injunction to remove the homeless from Jubilee Park, that the City of Abbotsford had told him there was shelter space available for those in the homeless camp.
He also made it clear that, based on the City’s track record on issues of homelessness, he expected the City to follow up on the lack of housing for the homeless from Jubilee Park in a real and meaningful way.
“I have been told shelter is available. It is reasonable to expect that will be followed up upon in a real and meaningful way. – The Honourable Mr. Justice Williams“
After the City of Abbotsford pressured Abbotsford’s high-barrier shelters to put severe weather procedures into effect over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Most of the homeless were back on the street within days or weeks after the severe weather shelter rules were no longer in place.
Pivot Legal Society has been pushing to have the trial regarding Abbotsford’s bylaws be expedited. The basis of their argument is that people are suffering now and that the city should not be able to rely on bylaws to displace people – especially not for another winter – rather than providing real and effective outreach and services.
“This case raises difficult issues. The defendants are a particular and special group of persons. They are marginalized members of the community. Many of them have drug and alcohol issues and suffer from mental illness. The evidence satisfies me that they are not simply persons who have no homes. They are persons whose personal conditions and idiosyncrasies make conventional housing and shelter solutions problematic. The typical shelter alternatives are, for these persons, they say, not really viable options”
Even though directed by a BC Supreme Court Justice to deal with the issues facing the men and women he was forcefully evicting from Jubilee Park in “a real and meaningful way,” in February Mayor Banman voted against the majority of Council to turn down $15.3 million from BC Housing for the smallest low-barrier shelter ever considered in the history of the province.
Abbotsford has no low barrier shelters thus sentencing the majority of the men and women who suffer from addiction, alcohol dependence, or mental illness to live on the streets where the APD has demonstrated a willingness to assault, steal from and abuse them. The APD has admitted as much and paid compensation to individuals after complaints raised by the 5 and 2 Ministries.
Mayor Banman struck a Task Force made up of the same people and organizations (except for the Salvation Army which approved of the now infamous Chicken Manure Incident in June of 2013) which have found it impossible to solve the Abbotsford Homeless Crisis over the last decade.
In spite of Justice Williams’ instruction that the City of Abbotsford should address the matter of the availability of low-barrier shelter space for its most marginalized citizens in as real and as meaningful a way as possible, the City has nonetheless asked that the matter not go to trial until spring 2015 after another cold winter for the city’s homeless population.
City’s behaviour “unacceptable, deplorable and reprehensible”
From Justice William’s reasons for judgment:
“The evidence indicates that certain events have occurred in respect of these persons and their experiences in Abbotsford. I refer particularly to allegations that some of them have had chicken manure dumped upon their campsites, that bear spray has been dispersed on them, and that their tents have been slashed. The allegations suggest that agents of the state, municipal employees, have been at least in part responsible for such activities.”It is not my responsibility in the context of this application to adjudicate those allegations and I do not purport to do so. However, I will say this: conduct of that sort, if it were to have occurred, is simply and entirely unacceptable. It is deplorable and reprehensible. I cannot imagine that any fair-minded and decent person would think otherwise.”