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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Chilliwack Search and Rescue truck heads down Vedder Road towards Cultus Lake to assist a dirtbiker with a broken leg. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Emergency crews, SAR busy with three separate outdoor recreation incidents in Chilliwack area

Calls in 1 afternoon include ATV collision, parachuter who fell from tree, dirtbiker with broken leg

Chilliwack’s historic Royal Hotel is offering COVID-style wedding packages for two weeks in June. (Facebook/ Royal Hotel Chilliwack)
Chilliwack hotel offers pop-up, COVID-style weddings for 2 weeks this June

‘Weddings can still happen, albeit in a different fashion,’ says Laura Reid of Royal Hotel

Nick Warmerdam and his dog Diesel are inviting locals to check out the Lakeland Farm U-pick Flower Farm this spring. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
VIDEO & SLIDESHOW: Abbotsford’s Lakeland Flowers opens for spring

Tulip farm attraction opened on April 14, open to the public daily seven days a week

A man holds a child while speaking with RCMP following an erratic driving incident on Highway 1 in Chilliwack on Friday, April 16, 2021. The child and a woman (but not this man) were in this Jeep Grand Cherokee which hit a barrier and a parked car on Highway 1 and continued driving. The vehicle finally exited the highway at Yale Road West and came to a stop. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Video captures woman driving erratically with child after hitting barrier, car on Hwy 1 in Chilliwack

Smoke seen coming from SUV as it continues to travel eastbound of shoulder of highway

Video image
UPDATE: Bridge traffic moving normally after high-velocity crash involving logging truck

Northbound crash occurred at approximately 2 p.m., involves 6 vehicles, north lanes shut down

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

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

Most Read