By Mike Archer. Abbotsford Today has been told by multiple sources on the streets that the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) is increasing its presence in the and around the homeless camps along Gladys Avenue including the Drug War Survivors (DWS) protest camp across from the Mennonite Central Committee’s (MSS) building.
Asked about the increase Const. Ian MacDonald, of the APD, confirmed it saying, “I can assure you we are not engaged in harassing people. What has happened recently in the area has been the identification of individuals involved in the drug trade, including Danielle TOPLESS (a violent prolific offender), who have been selling to and targeting members of the homeless community and the area. We absolutely have stepped up enforcement to deal with that. In addition, there has been a 22% increase in calls for service in that area in June (compared to May). Some of those requests for service have come from the individuals in the camps themselves. If there are increased calls and increased reported incidents, there will be increased numbers of police officers.”
This follows on statements by the APD made after the arrest of Danielle Toplass indicating they consider the Gladys Ave homeless camps a highy priority for criminal activity.
“This is an important arrest for the Abbotsford Police Department and for public safety in Abbotsford. Toplass was investigated because it is believed that she was supplying drugs to people in the Gladys area, including the homeless. The Abbotsford Police Department will continue to work to combat criminal activity in that part of the city and arrest those who cause harm or place others at risk.”
It also follows on comments made on a seemingly unrelated issue – Coal Trains In Downtown Abbotsford – by Deputy City Manager Jake Rudolph about concerns for the safety of the homeless in proximity to toxic coal fumes.
Rudolph turned the question around to make a gratuitous point about reasons the City would like the homeless people removed from Gladys Avenue.
“The homeless camps in the railway corridor are a concern for a number of reasons. Safety is a particular concern where camps are within the railway right of way. Use of the railway lands for railway purposes is a permitted activity. Homeless camps are not.”
Today has received reports of increased activity by both uniformed and undercover officers at the camps and some of the residents are choosing to leave the camps out of fear. When residents leave the camps and hide deeper in the woods it removes them even further away from services available downtown and meals available at the Salvation Army and at Jubilee Park from The 5 and 2 Ministries.
Known as the Abbotsford Shuffle it is APD Chief Bob Rich’s ‘displace and disperse’ strategy which has proved so ineffective and has led to the numerous lawsuits and human rights complaints against his department and the City of Abbotsford.
Many of those who appear to be being targeted are expected in Supreme Court in Vancouver on Friday when the City of Abbotsford’s attempts to have the law suits against it and the APD and the challenges by the Pivot Legal Society to the injunctions against DWS members, moved into the year 2015 rather than discuss the issues prior to the November municipal election or another winter on the streets for Abbotsford’s homeless population.
Last year’s Standoff in Jubilee was ended by an injunction granted by a supreme court judge based on the City of Abbotsford assertion that it has enough shelter space available for all of its homeless population – a statement contradicted by the fact that, within days of the injunction the residents of the protest camp in Jubilee Park were back living on the streets.
The APD has also been under fire for it’s treatment of DWS member Roy Roberts who was repeatedly shot with rubber bullets behind the Abbotsford Foodbank this spring.
After the arrest Roberts is reported to have spent a short period of time at Colony Farms prison and was then returned to Abbotsford with no support or shelter. Left on his own, he was unable or unwilling to meet with his parole officer and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Many in the community are expressing anger and frustration at the seeming inability of the men and women who get paid to take care of their fellow citizens to do anything of the kind.
Friday’s cases have been moved from the court in News Westminster to downtown Vancouver at the request of BC Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher E. Hinkson who has chosen to hear the cases.
The City and The APD are also facing two human rights complaints before the BC Human Rights Tribunal later this year.
The City has requested an early resolution meeting for Friday’s court cases with Pivot Legal Society to negotiate a resolution on July 10 in Vancouver.
The DWS members who feel they are being targeted by the APD say that the increased police activity in their camps is only strengthening their resolve to get justice.
City Moves To Have Homeless Decisions Stalled Until Spring 2015
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.”
What Do You Think?
Does the increased police activity in and around the homeless camps and the protest camp on Gladys Avenue concern you?
Does it seem to you it may constitute intimidation of the very people who are going to be in court on Friday arguing against the City and the APD?
If that is what is going on do you think it is appropriate behaviour?
Use the comments box below or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org