Who Is This Man Who Has Held Abbotsford Hostage Over The Rights Of The Homeless?
By Mike Archer. Anybody who knows Barry Shantz will likely chuckle (or be offended) at the thought that he is feeling lonely. Known as an activist who will never miss an opportunity to fight for his membership in as loud, obnoxious, rude, blunt or insulting a fashion as possible, the more public and formal the occasion the better – Shantz admits that the around-the-clock in-your-face-persona he has adopted takes its toll.
Cover: Photo of Barry Shantz originally published in Vancouver Magazine by Carlo Ricco. Carlo Ricco is a Vancouver based photographer and director. He specializes in editorial portraiture, fashion and advertising.
“My health has suffered greatly over the last few years,” says Shantz. He spent much of 2013 going through a series nine eye operations to relieve pressure building up inside his eyes and seeing a number of specialists to deal with rampant high blood pressure.
Standoff in Jubilee
During the crucial weeks, for the DWS, leading up to and through the Christmas holidays last year, when the protest camp in Jubilee Park and the wooden fortress erected in the adjacent parking lot were drawing 24-hr police and media surveillance and attention, Shantz says family and friends were worried he would collapse.
“It’s amazing really that I’ve survived the last couple of years but you know, sometimes in life, you are up against something so large, so powerful and so entrenched that, if what you’re fighting for means anything at all, you just can’t back down. You can’t break soft or allow the pressure to beat you,” says Shantz.
During those critical weeks, Shantz was in hospital for another eye operation and lost the use of both eyes for most of January and February. He reached out to Today Media and asked if they would provide a secret, back channel communications link between the DWS and the administration of the City during the tense legal maneuvers and police actions surrounding the high profile Standoff in Jubilee.
Shantz, armed only with a cell phone, negotiated with the City through phone calls and emails transferred back and forth between the two by Today Media. The existence of the back channel, and the content of the discussions, was kept secret until false allegations by the Abbotsford Police Department (APD)about Today Media‘s involvement necessitated a correction of the facts.
None of the details of the negotiations have ever been revealed but the lid was kept on a very tense situation. After the peaceful resolution of the Jubilee Park protest, the building materials used to build the plywood barricade in the parking lot beside the park was dismantled and taken to the City’s public works yard where it remains to this day.
The symbolic Tee Pee was moved down to City land on Gladys Avenue across from the new gigantic MCC building called the ‘MCC Dignity Village’ protest camp. The series of court cases between the DWS, individuals involved in the Chicken Manure Incident, the City of Abbotsford and the APD have resulted in an uneasy truce between the City and the DWS which has meant that the protest is now the longest continuous protest in BC history.
Risk and Reward
Risk has always been what Barry Shantz is all about. The rewards have changed dramatically over the course of a lifetime of risk-taking.
Most are surprised is to find out he’s of Mennonite descent. It’s hard to square that circle for those who understand the danger he represents to Abbotsford’s Mennonite power structure.
Shantz has been fighting for the rights of the victims of the drug wars almost since the day he left the US penitentiary where he spent 13 years, two months and one day of his life for his part in the world’s largest hashish smuggling operation on the west coast by combined US and Canadian authorities.
He learned a lot in prison.
Shantz taught himself both American and Canadian law and learned the rules of the game as an activist for prisoners’ rights.
While in prison he came in contact with Abbotsford lawyer John Conroy who, among other things, is Canada’s foremost legal experts on international prisoner transfers.
Upon his release Shantz went to work for Conroy and it wasn’t long before he met the drug addicts, prostitutes and homeless people who lived, worked and slept on the streets outside of Conroy’s law offices at the corner of Pauline and Homeview in downtown Abbotsford.
A Convert to the Cause
That’s when a long relationship began with the homeless men and women who live on the streets of Abbotsford.
Realizing that the majority of those who were homeless were battling either mental illness, alcohol addiction or drug addiction … or all three, Shantz began reaching out to care agencies, churches and whatever government services he could find. He found very little. He certainly found no help at all for drug addicts and so he reached out to Fraser Health and organizations like the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).
Upon learning that Fraser Health was prohibited by the City of Abbotsford’s Anti-Harm Reduction bylaw from saving lives by dispensing clean needles to drug addicts, Shantz became an advocate. After he met Ann Livingston of VANDU, he became an activist.
“More than anyone I think Ann has inspired me to the point where I will never give on a single member of the the DWS or any human being who is battling addiction, mental illness, poverty or any of the horrible ways in which powerful people and organizations deliberately oppress people who, they believe,don’t belong in our society,” he says.
Shantz became heavily involved in just about every committee, task force and working group involving Fraser Health, government agencies, churches and service providers to try to unlock the logjam of religious belief, conservative moralism and an enormous lack of education or awareness of the the science, research and evidence which clearly demonstrates that harm reduction saves lives.
During those years he developed his reputation as a ‘take-no-prisoners,’ loud, often angry and powerful advocate for members of the organization he founded – the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors.
He learned to accept the frustration of believing he had taken two or three steps forward only to find out that, in the Byzantine world of Abbotsford politics and the business of poverty, he had actually been pushed back four or five steps by forces of which he was completely unaware.
The Activist and the Law
Over the years he gained an intimate knowledge of what those forces were and the (mostly) old white men who do their bidding. It made him angry but with the help of Conroy Livingston and a powerful new force on the scene – DJ Larkin of the Pivot Legal Society, he began to use his prison experience, his not insubstantial intellect and his massive will to focus his efforts on strategic success.
Working closely with Larkin and her office, Shantz facilitated the hundreds of hours of interviews and the tireless process of obtaining affidavits in order to build the legal challenge to Abbotsford’s ultra vires, illegal Anti Harm Reduction Bylaw.
It became a cause célèbre in Canadian law and drew the attention of lawyers, judges and municipal governments across Canada as it made its way through the courts and ended up in the BC Supreme Court.
Though City politicians waited until councillor Simon Gibson, the councillor most associated with the illegal bylaw, had left the council table to take on his new duties as an MLA in Victoria, in order to change the bylaw, the City changed its bylaw in 2014 allowing for the delivery of life-saving healthcare, in the manner of clean needles and other harm reduction services, to drug addicts in Abbotsford.
“It was as incredible moment,” says Shantz of the day he learned of the Pivot/DWS victory, “But it was overshadowed by the intense battle we were in over our protest in Jubilee Park and the tactics of the City and the APD in trying to eradicate our organization and disperse our members,” says Shantz.
“We were in the battle of our lives and these people were pissed,” says Shantz.
Having temporarily lost his eyesight, his blood pressure at dangerous levels and ordered by doctors to rest and recover, Shantz did all he could to look after the interest of his members, now displaced and dispersed by the APD, and managed the crisis from his bed at home.
The Chicken Manure Incident
The other story which has been growing ever since June of 2013, which has taken up more and more of Shantz’s time and head space, has been the legal battle in which he, the DWS and Pivot Legal Society are engaged with the City of Abbotsford and the APD arising out of the infamous Chicken Manure Incident and the legal actions of the City against Shantz personally.
Those proceedings passed an important legal threshold this fall when, after months of delay and motions objecting to everything from the DWS’ standing before the court as representative of their members, the validity and viability of the lawsuits by DWS members against the City and a series of other objections, the BC Supreme Court’s Chief Justice rejected every single motion of the City and instructed that the case go to trial and the APD cooperate and provide the documents it had been refusing to turn over to the court.
It was a major moment, not only in Shantz’s recent experience with the power structure in Abbotsford but in Canadian jurisprudence. For the first time in Canadian political and legal history the right of a municipal government – constitutionally a local of the provincial government – to pass bylaws which usurp, contravene and contradict laws passed by provincial and federal governments which have actual jurisdiction to pass laws, will be decided in a court of law.
Simply put; the City of Abbotsford and its police chief are defending their right to use camping bylaws as an excuse to persecute, abuse, steal from, threaten, harass, displace, disperse and dehumanize citizens of their city whose only ‘crimes’ are to be without a lease or rental agreement, the wherewithal to house themselves or get a job, and suffer the added indignity of dealing with the ravages of mental illness, alcohol dependence or drug addiction.
Shantz doesn’t think they should be allowed to do that.
Success and Push-Back
“It’s amazing how much push-back you get on something like this. I mean; this is the 21st Century in one of the richest, most developed countries in the world, and this is the kind of shit prominent and respected citizens think is quite respectable and correct. Can you believe it?” asks Shantz.
It’s why he is so belligerent; so in-your-face; so unforgiving and ‘impossible to deal with.’
“Life is too short to allow this kind of medieval shit to still be allowed to happen in a modern advanced country like Canada,” he says. “It’s unbelievable.”
“Do you know that Mayor Bruce Banman equated drug addicts with pedophiles?” he say, his temper rising.
“I know there are probably plenty of pedophiles up in some of the nice mansions in which some of the nice old families of Abbotsford live but I haven’t met any down at the Tee Pee,” says Shantz, visibly angry at the mayor’s outlandish remarks.
“This guy gets away with saying shit like that about people he doesn’t even know,” says Shantz, adding, “There is more human dignity and respect among the poor and the homeless of Abbotsford than there are in the awful, insulting and despicable words of this man who speaks on behalf of the people of this city.”
“That remark was the most hurtful, demeaning and insulting thing I have heard out of a politician, a cop, or any other public official in all my years working with this city’s most marginalized people,” says Shantz. “I can’t believe he’s still allowed to hold public office.”
Shantz is used to being shunned and ignored by those in the power structure. He understands that he represents a threat and makes them uncomfortable. He laughs, “I may be the loneliest man in Abbotsford right now. Ever since BC Supreme Court and Human Rights Tribunal recognized the DWS as the representative of Abbotsford’s most marginalized people and ordered the City of Abbotsford and the APD to defend themselves, nobody seems to want to talk to me anymore.”
“I don’t think most of the people in the power structure who have let the homeless men and women of Abbotsford down have any idea what lies ahead,” he says, referring to the fact that, now that the BC Supreme Court has agreed to hear the DWS’s cases, it is possible that a parade of some of the most well known and powerful men and women within the political community and the care community – Shantz refers to it as ‘The Business of Poverty’ – will be required to give testimony or, at the very least, have their names and their actions discussed, debated and recorded for posterity.
“They are uncomfortable because I tell them the truth about themselves,” Shantz says about why many people are shy about meeting with him.
He’s fully aware that some people simply don’t like him or his abrasive style. Many of his fiercest enemies come from within the community which works with many of the homeless and the marginalized. He realizes his methods sometimes offend but he makes no apologies.
“I have no fear about telling (Abbotsford Community Services Director) Rod Santiago he’s weak for letting us down when the Shelter Working Group asked him to get the Sally Ann to discuss the holes in the provision of services to those who need them and twice he let us down.
“I’m not afraid to tell Ron Van Wyk (of the Mennonite Central Committee) that the MCC is responsible for, not only evicting homeless men from their construction site but for participating in a decades long process of prejudice and cleansing of undesirables from the community they claim to represent.
“I don’t mind telling Jim Burkinshaw of the Abbotsford Church Leaders Network (ACLN) that by standing idly by they have participated in one of the most horrid examples of abuse and discrimination in Canadian history.
“It’s the truth. It doesn’t get me invited to too many cocktail parties but, you know, it seems to me, if you want to take the money, the social cache and the rewards of being a community leader then you should take the responsibility of actually being one. None of us down here at the bottom get rewarded for failure. Nobody buys us a drink, shrugs and pats us on the back when we fuck up.”
Being nice, respectful and patient has lead nowhere for members of the DWS and, while Shantz has respect for many of those working the front lines with the addicts, the prostitutes, the alcohol dependent and the mentally ill forced to survive on the streets of Abbotsford, he has no patience for the ‘wait and see’ approach or the deal-making which seems required in the political and social power structures of Abbotsford.
“You don’t make deals with human dignity. You don’t make a deal and throw the rights of the poor away in return for a little bit of funding or an office and a telephone. We’re talking about people’s lives, not a climbing through the social structure of Abbotsford,” he says.
Shantz says he has been getting more unpopular than usual since the BC Supreme Court decision to allow the DWS/Pivot lawsuit to proceed.
“Honestly; I think I scare the shit out of them,” he says.
“Think about it … all of their dirty little secrets are now going to come out in full view of the community and the people from whom they gain all of their respect and power. Nice people are going to start asking some serious questions when the court testimony starts coming out and some pretty influential people are going to have to answer some pretty embarrassing questions.
“If I were them … I’d be concerned,” says Shantz and then smiles and breaks into his trademark laugh.
“But we’re all friends. There’s redemption at the end of this story for those who want it you know. If these men and women are prepared to own up to what they’ve done; apologize to the men and women they’ve hurt; and participate the healing process we can all move forward as friends.
“My most fervent hope is that this community can finally decide to face up to what it has done, apologize to those it has hurt, and join with us in moving forward and building a community where every citizen has a right to human dignity and protection from abuse by authorities because of mental illness, alcohol dependence, drug addiction or financial distress,” he says.
“It’s the unrepentant bastards who don’t even believe they’ve done wrong who have anything to fear from me,” he says, then throws hid head back and laughs.
But there are tears in his eyes as he looks out the window into the darkness of the Fraser Canyon, narrowly missing an oncoming semi trailer.
“Did you see that, I ask him.
“See what?” he says.
Short Summary of Abbotsford’s Homeless Crisis:
First came John Smith’s announcement to the national media that he had instructed the APD to handle homelessness in downtown Abbotsford; then the Abbotsford Shuffle – otherwise known as Chief Bob Rich’s “disperse and displace” strategy for solving homelessness; then Mayor Banman’s Chicken Manure Incident (first revealed on Abbotsford Today); then there was the Standoff in Jubilee; followed by the ‘MCC Dignity Village‘ protest camp on Gladys Avenue and the gathering of more and more of Abbotsford’s homeless to the security of living with others and out in the open in the growing size and number of camps across from the Salvation Army and along Gladys Avenue.
Along the way a few embarrassing revelations were uncovered and published by Abbotsford Today including
the fact that the Salvation Army knew about and was in agreement with the use of chicken feces to encourage the homeless to move from their camp across the street from the Sally Ann; and the rude and demeaning emails shared by police chief Bob Rich and his senior staff after the Chicken Manure Incident went worldwide.
Join the discussion 3 Comments
An army of one, Barry is a remarkable man making a difference.
Alesha Gillett Says:
Well put. Stay up Barry! your a great man. Thank you all for the friendship and your dedication to such an important and valuable cause. Your not alone. You are appreciated and respected. Thank you!
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Bas Stevens Says:
This is one hell of an article Mike!
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