What Does BCCLA Decision Mean To The City?

More pain, costs and shame?
By Mike Archer. The decision by the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) to join the constitutional litigation between the City of Abbotsford and its homeless population [BCCLA Joins DWS Case Against City Of Abbotsford] raises the bar substantially in terms of the public limelight which will now shine on the neverending Abbotsford Homeless Crisis.

More opinions about the legality and the constitutionality of the City of Abbotsford and its police department’s behaviour. More press releases about the importance of the case. More news stories about the complexities of the case. More examination of the actions of city staff, police and politicians. More scrutiny of the actions taken by service providers and their staff as a result of City bylaws. More discussion of the damage done to human beings by the bylaws, policies, procedures and actions of the leadership of a community and their employees.

More fuel for the endless fire this issue has become …

While the City has never revealed the costs of the various law suits in which it is engaged with its homeless citizens (some of which go back more than two years), estimates of as much as $10,000 per day have been given at the high end of what law firms which specialize in municipal affairs and constitutional law might charge a city like Abbotsford in such a comlicated miasma of jurisprudence.

If those estimates are even in the ball park, then the City of Abbotsford and the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) are costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and possibly millions defending decisions and actions taken against the most defenceless and marginalized citizens in the city.

Mayor Braun and his new council have given City Manager George Murray direction to explore a negotiated settlement. Deputy City Manager Jake Rudolph seems to be the point man on this file as he either appears in court representing the City or his name appears on the information provided to the court.

We are aware of reports that law schools, international advocacy groups, and municipalities across the country and around the world are eagerly watching the mess Abbotsford has created for itself and just how it intends to extricate itself from that mess. The ramifications for citizens and cities across the country are potentially profound.

Based on what little we know about what is happening in the several cases Abbotsford taxpayers continue to fund, there seems to be a disconnect between the City’s lawyers and the instructions they are getting, and the city manager and the instructions he was given by city council.

While city lawyers have demonstrated a singular lack of willingness or ability to move at a pace any faster than slow motion, the immediate needs of the homeless people still living on Abbotsford’s streets seem to have disappeared from anybody’s radar. Protesters or not – the homeless men and women of Abbotsford who are not in our high barrier shelters are still without any of the necessities of life.

The Abbotsford Dignitarian Society won’t allow any of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association’s (ADBA) money to be spent on the immediate needs of the homeless such as food, porta potties, or cleaning facilities. Neither the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) nor Abbotsford Community Services (ACS), both of which have money to spend on the disadvantaged and the poor, seem capable of providing any assistance to the men and women living in sub-human conditions on Gladys Avenue.

Since City administrators were given their marching orders to seek a negotiated settlement, we have heard nothing about their progress or lack thereof.

Now that the BCCLA has joined the fight, the heat is only going to rise as an increasing number of people, organizations, municipalities, lawyers, media and, perhaps most importantly, the beleaguered Abbotsford citizens who are tired of this whole fiasco, will be demanding to know:

  • Are we getting out of the lawsuits or not?
  • How much is it costing to continue to fight?
  • Who is responsible?

This will be the first real test of Henry Braun’s leadership.

He said the homeless lawsuits were job one during the election campaign and he acted as quickly as he was able to in order to change direction. If senior city staff can’t convince the City’s expensive lawyers to accomplish what the mayor and council have told them to accomplish, then maybe we need knew lawyers. Maybe we need new senior staff.

The longer this legal nightmare is allowed to go on, the more costly and painful the outcome will likely be for the people of Abbotsford.

With the BCCLA adding their substantial presence to the case, and the City’s lawyers appearing to dig in their heals, it does not look like Braun’s hope of getting the City to stop fighting the homeless in court is going anywhere soon.

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