Supreme Court homeless decision to stand

City planning major weather shelter announcement for later this week

The homeless protest camp on Gladys Avenue

The homeless protest camp on Gladys Avenue

Neither the City of Abbotsford nor homeless activists are appealing the B.C. Supreme Court decision allowing overnight shelters in public parks.

The decision allows people to sleep in parks and erect a tent overnight, between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m., if there aren’t other shelter options available. It was handed down just over a month ago, and the period for appeals has passed. City lawyers and Pivot Legal Society, the non-profit group representing a group of homeless people in Abbotsford, will now work with a judge to define the precise meaning of the decision’s language.

“To me, it would’ve been a waste of money to appeal,” said Mayor Henry Braun. As the decision closely followed a previous case about a Victoria tent city, Abbotsford lawyers decided there was little chance for a more favourable ruling.

Pivot Legal Society’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The city didn’t enforce its bylaws against a protest-driven tent city on Gladys Avenue while the case was before the courts. But now that the case is finished, Braun says there will be an announcement on the fate of the camp within the next few days.

He said the announcement will herald a “made-in-Abbotsford” step to reduce homelessness in the area, and will follow the city’s “housing first” approach the idea that other problems faced by homeless people are best solved after, not before, finding stable shelter.

Braun said the announcement will also relate to the long-hoped-for plan for a temporary weather shelter in Abbotsford, though he wasn’t yet able to release specific details.

“We have a plan, and we’re going to roll that out,” he said.

While the case was still before the courts, The News filed a freedom of information request to determine how much the city was spending in legal costs. This request was rejected, because the fees were considered to be privileged legal information about ongoing litigation.

Braun, who ran on a platform of transparent government, said he will do all he can to release the total amount spent now that the case is over.

“I personally feel the citizens of Abbotsford have a right to know what was spent,” he said, adding that the total was definitely under $1 million, and that it was “not a good use of funds” for either side because the decision largely reiterated the previous Victoria case.

But all the legal wrangling isn’t over, and Braun said more money will likely be spent in the coming weeks as the two parties return to court to seek clarification on the order.

“For instance, what does ‘taking down a tent’ mean? Does it mean just dropping the tent poles, and leaving everything where it is, or does it mean physically removing the tent?… Both sides are going to try to get some definition around the words and what they mean.”

Braun said he expects city staff will prepare a new version of the bylaw containing provisions struck down by the court decision. He said it should be ready in the new year.

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