‘The Battle for the Commons’
Right of homeless to camp in parks is focus of landmark Victoria court case.
*City of Victoria’s Anti-camping laws struck down*
By Andrew MacLeod October 14, 2008
The City of Victoria has lost its appeal of a 2008 court ruling that struck
down the city’s anti-camping bylaws while the number of people who are
homeless exceeds the number of available shelter beds.
“The court has made it clear they are going to take the rights of homeless
people, the most marginalized people in the city, seriously,” said Catherine
Boies Parker, a lawyer who along with Irene Faulkner represented a group of
people who were forced out of a tent city set up in a city park in 2005.
“We hope now the city will sit down with everyone and try to come up with a
reasonable accommodation,” she said, noting that it’s rare for cases
involving the rights of people who are homeless or living in poverty to be
heard in court.
A message to a city spokesperson was not returned by publication time.
Madam Justice Risa Levine, Madam Justice Kathryn Neilson and Justice Harvey
Groberman ruled that Madam Justice Carol Ross who heard the original case in
the Supreme Court of B.C. was correct in her ruling and did not intrude
improperly on the policy decisions of elected officials.
“We agree with the trial judge that prohibiting the homeless from taking
simple measures to protect themselves through the creation or utilization of
rudimentary forms of overhead protection, in circumstances where there is no
practicable shelter alternative, is a significant interference with their
dignity and independence,” the appeal court justices wrote.
Boies Parker said the ruling will make it harder for governments to pass
similar laws in the future without taking the dignity of the people they
affect into consideration.
The appeal judges also ruled that the city would have to pay the costs Boies
Parker and Faulkner incurred to fight the appeal. This is on top of the
$200,000 the court required the city to pay for them to fight the original
case, plus the city’s own costs.
Since the original ruling the city has adjusted its bylaws to allow
overnight camping but requires tents to be removed during the daytime. The
appeal is silent on the constitutionality of the new bylaws, but Boies
Parker said she expects they will also be struck down if and when they are
tested in court.
UPDATE: Victoria’s city council decided after being briefed by municipal
lawyers Dec. 10 that it will not appeal the ruling.
Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. You can reach him here.