The City of Abbotsford will have to pay court costs after B.C. Supreme Court’s chief justice declared that a group of homeless advocates was the victor in the lengthy 2015 trial that overturned Abbotsford’s bylaws prohibiting overnight camping in its parks.
However, the amount owed by the city will likely be closer to $300,000, rather than the $1 million sought by lawyers for B.C./Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS), the group of homeless men and women that brought the case to court.
Following the trial, both the DWS and the city claimed success and asked for the other side to pay legal costs stemming from the lengthy proceeding, which concluded in October of 2015 with B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson declaring the city must allow some overnight camping, but could put limits on such stays.
But in a ruling issued Dec. 30, Hinkson ruled that while both sides had prevailed on individual issues of dispute, the DWS had succeeded in the “event” central to the case: the declaration allowing the homeless to camp overnight in Abbotsford’s parks.
The matters in which the city was successful – the upholding of its street and traffic laws and parts of other challenged bylaws, along with several other declarations sought by the DWS but not granted – were secondary to the case, Hinkson said.
He declined to award “full indemnity” costs sought by the lawyers for the homeless.
He also noticed that just one of the lawyers, DJ Larkin, was employed by the non-profit Pivot Legal Society to handle the case, while counsel from law firm Fasken Martineau offered their services on a pro bono basis. The bulk of the costs sought were for the Fasken Martineau lawyers, but in his ruling, Hinkson said they presumably took the case with no expectation of payment but to serve those who would otherwise be unable to afford them.
The justice also declined to make the city pay special costs, despite accepting that delays in the trial “resulted in the city’s homeless being forced to bear the very real consequences flowing from it,” and “resulted in continued displacement, prolonging the actual suffering and mistreatment of the homeless.”
Hinkson said neither the delays nor the conduct by city staff toward the homeless that in part led to the trial were sufficient to warrant extra costs.
Still, he awarded costs to the plaintiffs exceeding the normal rate, citing the complex manner of the trial. That, and Larkin’s employment by a public interest advocate, warranted costs at 1.5 times the normal rate.
Preliminary estimates by lawyers for the homeless would put the city on the hook for around $300,000, although the actual sum will be decided by a court registrar.
The city has not disclosed how much it spent on legal costs to fight the suit, although payments to the law firm that handled the case were $300,000 above normal in 2015. The city has since moved to hire an in-house lawyer.