Release. Pivot Legal Society will defend a lawsuit seeking to protect the constitutional rights of homeless people in Abbotsford and argue for access to police documents that are critical to the lawsuit.
Cover photo: Nick Zurowski, The Face of Homelessness in Abbotsford. Bas Stevens Photo.
Pivot Legal Society is representing the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS) in a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit that will be heard starting June 29, 2015. DWS is challenging the City of Abbotsford’s eviction of homeless people from Jubilee Park in 2013 and three municipal bylaws that affect the city’s homeless population.
During a two-day hearing beginning Thursday, March 26, the City of Abbotsford will argue at the Court of Appeal that the B.C. Supreme Court should not hear how police and city staff enforced bylaws against the city’s homeless. The city is also arguing that they are not responsible for when their police officers breach people’s constitutional rights.
DWS will defend their right to have the treatment of homeless people heard in court, and also appeal the court’s previous decision requiring them to pay for the disclosure of Abbotsford Police Department documents, which has been estimated to be as much as $29,000.
“The court’s decision ordering homeless people to pay the full cost of documents that are integral to their lawsuit not only limits access to justice, it sets a troubling precedent that could impact all British Columbians,” says DJ Larkin, housing lawyer at Pivot Legal Society. “This decision means that anybody attempting to hold police officers accountable for their actions can expect to pay an extraordinary cost for that right. This lawsuit cannot be fairly heard without the court seeing these documents that demonstrate how the police enforced the bylaws in question.”
The challenge to the bylaws stems from a series of actions by Abbotsford city officials and police against the homeless people in the community. In June 2013, Abbotsford city officials spread chicken manure on a Gladys Avenue encampment; around the same time, homeless people accused Abbotsford police of slashing and pepper-spraying tents at another encampment. That October, a group of about two-dozen homeless people set up camp at Abbotsford’s Jubilee Park. Two months later, the BC Supreme Court granted the city’s request for an injunction, allowing staff to evict the group a few days before Christmas.
“The city and police should be working to fight homelessness, not fighting to keep homeless people out of court and out of public spaces,” says Doug Smith, a member of DWS. “We deserve to be treated with dignity, and to be recognized as people who have equal rights to court and have our rights protected in court.”
DWS is challenging the City of Abbotsford’s Consolidated Parks Bylaw, Consolidated Street and Traffic Bylaw, and Consolidated Good Neighbour Bylaw that prohibit sleeping in a park overnight, erecting a basic survival structure, and even sleeping in a car. If successful, it would eliminate the bylaws and recognize access to safe shelters as a basic human right.