Update: City asks court to throw out suit alleging mistreatment of homeless

B.C. Supreme Court justice to decide whether lawsuit over parks bylaw will go to trial.

This homeless camp in Jubilee Park was evicted late last year.

This homeless camp in Jubilee Park was evicted late last year.

The group suing the City of Abbotsford on behalf of its homeless population doesn’t have the right or authority to bring the case to court, a city lawyer told B.C. Supreme Court chief justice Christopher Hinkson Friday.

But the lawyers for the homeless disagree, saying the case is “a matter of life and death” for the people they represent.

The BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS) has filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of the homeless, contending the city’s bylaws against camping in parks are unconstitutional. The DWS says conduct by the city and its police department has also breached the charter rights of Abbotsford’s homeless.

The lawsuit was filed after homeless residents who had established a protest camp in Jubilee Park last October were given an eviction notice from the city. The B.C. Supreme Court granted the City of Abbotsford an injunction that forced the homeless out of Jubilee, citing the contravention of the city’s parks bylaw.

The injunction applied only to Jubilee Park and the issue of prohibiting camping in all city parks was set to be addressed separately.

City of Abbotsford lawyer Kevin Yardley argued before Justice Christopher Hinkson Friday that the Drug War Survivors’ case is too broad. He asked Hinkson to dismiss the case because it alleges a breach of people’s rights but names neither individual plaintiffs nor specific instances in which the constitution has been violated.

“It is so broad in scope that it has lost its focus that it should have, especially for Charter issues,” he said. “They do not prove or allege a charter breach for any particular individual.”

Yardley said the Drug War Survivors do not have standing to file a suit on a public interest basis because they lack an obvious connection to Abbotsford’s particular homeless issue. And he questioned why the legal action wasn’t brought by an individual, given that homeless people have filed suits against the city in small claims court and with the BC Human Rights Tribunal. Yardley pointed to those cases as evidence that “there are individuals who can bring specific facts, should they be so inclined.”

The Drug War Survivors are represented by the Pivot Legal Society and lawyers David Wotherspoon and Kevin Nakanishi.

They said that the case seeks to change how Abbotsford deals with to its homeless situation.

“This is a matter of life and death for members of the society,” Nakanishi said. He said that the case is in its infancy and more specifics will be filed once the City of Abbotsford and the Abbotsford Police Department provide documents during the discovery stage of the proceedings.

Wotherspoon said that the DWS aims to improve the lives of drug users, including those in Abbotsford, and that housing is a big part of that. He also said the DWS has been working on the issue with the city for years.

“The DWS’s investment in homeless issues is not a passing fancy,” he said.

Nakanishi added that the city’s homeless men and women aren’t in a position to personally sign up to file suit and direct what he called a “major constitutional action.”

“This isn’t the situation of a mere busybody,” he said.

After a full day of arguments, Hinkson adjourned the case. He will issue a decision at a later date.