Pivot Legal Society, City Of Abbotsford, Face Off In Court Friday

Submitted. Pivot Legal Society will defend a lawsuit seeking to protect the rights of Abbotsford’s homeless people.

On Friday, July 4, the B.C. Supreme Court will hear the City of Abbotsford’s argument for why the courts should not allow a Pivot Legal Society-led lawsuit that would recognize access to safe shelter as a basic human right.

Cover photo: Nick Zurowski. Photo by Bas Stevens

The City of Abbotsford is seeking to strike down the lawsuit brought forward by the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS) on behalf of the city’s homeless population. The lawsuit contends that the city’s bylaws preventing access to safe shelter are unconstitutional. A decision B.C. Supreme Court on Friday in favour of the city would deny Abbotsford’s homeless from having their case heard in court.

“The City of Abbotsford is using laws to push people into alleys and under bridges, putting them in harm’s way and making their lives incredibly unsafe,” says DJ Larkin, lawyer at Pivot Legal Society. “People living on our streets have the least access to the justice system to uphold their basic rights. Instead of taking action to solve homelessness and protect all Canadians, our governments are denying our most vulnerable citizen’s access to housing and access to justice.”

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.

DWS director Doug Smith. Bas Stevens Photo

DWS director Doug Smith. Bas Stevens Photo

“The city should be taking steps to fight homelessness instead of fighting people without homes,” says Doug Smith, a member of DWS. “We deserve to be recognized as citizens whose rights need to be protected.”

The B.C. Supreme Court hearing is the latest in a series of actions against the homeless by the City of Abbotsford. Last summer, city staffers admitted to dumping chicken manure to deter homeless people from living along Gladys Avenue—across the street from the only adult emergency shelter in Abbotsford. Later, just five days before Christmas, the city oversaw the dismantling of tents and structures in Jubilee Park, sending people to the streets without safe shelter. And earlier this year the mayor and city council voted against a limited bylaw amendment that would have allowed the development of a low-barrier housing project for which the province has offered millions of dollars to fund, citing concern from business owners that it would attract homeless people into their downtown.

“We deserve to be heard in court,” says Nick Zurowski, a member of DWS and resident of the Jubilee Park camp. “Nothing about us, without us.”

Pivot lawyer DJ Larkin will be available to address media prior to the hearing on Friday, July 4 at 09:30 outside of the BC Supreme Court building at 800 Smith St., Vancouver, B.C.

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