Ruling shines spotlight on homeless

Latest decision on overnight park camping ups pressure on cities, governments to act on homelessness, housing and mental health

Part of the homeless encampment in Abbotsford that precipitated a court battle with the city.

Part of the homeless encampment in Abbotsford that precipitated a court battle with the city.

A leading municipal lawyer predicts cities and senior governments will be under increased pressure to house the homeless as a result of a new court ruling that they can’t be stopped from camping in parks overnight.

Jonathan Baker says the B.C. Supreme Court decision that Abbotsford can’t evict the homeless from a municipal park has broad implications for other communities, which may see more camps spring up in public spaces.

By making homeless tents a potential ongoing legal fixture in local parks, he said, the court has sent a signal that the problem can’t simply be covered up or chased away.

“You can’t govern by shoving a problem from neighbourhood to neighbourhood or from city to city,” Baker said. “You can’t do it with environmental pollution and you can’t do it with mental health. That’s what this means.”

RELATED: City, homeless advocates both pleased with case outcomeWaking up the homeless part of daily grind

He said the Abbotsford decision by Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson was “very balanced” in that it did not require permanent homeless camps to be established. Advocates there had demanded a designated tent city, with facilities including washrooms.

It largely mirrors a 2008 B.C. Court of Appeal ruling on use of parks in Victoria.

In both cases, courts have held that cities with insufficient shelter spaces for local homeless can’t enforce their bylaws that normally prohibit overnight camping in parks, although tents must come down during the day so parks can be enjoyed by other citizens.

In Victoria, that’s meant daily police patrols to rouse homeless campers each morning at 9 a.m. and cajole them to take down their tents until 7 p.m., when they can go back up again.

“Both courts are saying that the problem of people camping in parks is really a major mental health and social problem and ultimately it has to be addressed by governments, one way or another,” Baker said.

He called it a “marked departure” by the judiciary from 1984, when B.C. Supreme Court let the City of Vancouver oust sex workers from the West End, prompting them to migrate to other neighbourhoods.

He said sees “tremendous” potential for an appeal of the Abbotsford ruling – if either side sees enough potential benefit for the cost.

In the meantime, he said, all levels of government should redouble their efforts to work together to provide lasting solutions.

Baker said too many municipalities are concocting new definitions of low-cost housing that translate into tiny yet expensive apartments and fail to respond to the problem.

Some of the homeless simply can’t be housed conventionally, he said, adding some may need a modern type of institutionalization that blends support with some freedom.

That will take political will from the provincial or federal government, he said, because it requires a coordinated approach across municipal boundaries.

“If any one municipality came up with a true solution to homelessness – providing shelter of some sort – that’s where everybody would go and there’d be a shortage again.”

Maple Ridge grappled with a tent city along a public street this year.

The municipality waited until a new winter shelter opened and then persuaded the camped homeless to relocate, many of them to subsidized rentals, although officials had been prepared to use an injunction if necessary.

A winter shelter is being opened this year in Surrey, which is home to the second largest number of estimated homeless in the region after Vancouver and has also sought to remove tent encampments.

Just Posted

A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. (File photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
COVID-19 cases at Surrey school district drop ‘dramatically’

There were 19 notifications sent out in the first 9 days of June, compared to in all of 245 in May

1,001 Steps – along with Christopherson Steps – was closed by the City of Surrey last spring in an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19. They are set to reopen this week, as a note on a city sign attests (inset). (File photo/Contributed photo)
South Surrey’s beach-access stairs set to reopen

Christopherson Steps, 1,001 Steps have been closed since April 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic

Surrey council chambers. (File photo)
Surrey council endorses ‘public engagement’ strategy

Council approves ‘Public Engagement Strategy and Toolkit,’ and a ‘Big Vision, Bold Moves’ transportation public engagement plan

Surrey City Hall. (File photo)
Surrey council approves $7.3 million contract for street paving projects

City council awarded Lafarge Canada Inc. $7,326,667.95 for 15 road projects in North Surrey and one in South Surrey

Surrey city Councillor Brenda Locke. (File photo)
Locke seeks breakdown on what Surreyites get for taxes paid to Metro Vancouver

Surrey councillor presented motion to council Monday asking city staff to do a cost/benefit analysis

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Port Alberni court house (Alberni Valley News)
Coroners’ inquest into 2016 death of Port Alberni teen rescheduled for June 21

18-year-old Jocelyn George died of heart failure after spending time in jail cell

Children’s shoes and flowers are shown after being placed outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario commits $10 million to investigate burial sites at residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario

Singer-songwriter Jann Arden is pictured with a draft horse. (Canadian Horse Defence Coalition)
Jann Arden backs petition to stop ‘appalling’ live horse export, slaughter

June 14 is the International Day to End Live Export of Animals

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A letter from a senior RCMP officer in Langley said Mounties who attended a mayor’s gala in January of 2020 used their own money. Controversy over the event has dogged mayor Val van den Broek (R) and resulted in the reassignment of Langley RCMP Supt. Murray Power (L). (file)
Langley RCMP officers used ‘own money’ to attend mayor’s gala, senior officer says

‘I would not want there to be a belief that the police officers had done something untoward’

Squirrels are responsible for most of U.S. power outages. Black Press file photo
Dead squirrels in park lead Richmond RCMP to probe ‘toxic substance’ found in trees

Police aren’t sure if the chemical was dumped there or placed intentionally

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Most Read