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No court decision for homeless protest camp until Friday

Lawyer DJ Larkin and homeless protesters wait outside the B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster on Tuesday.  - Vikki Hopes
Lawyer DJ Larkin and homeless protesters wait outside the B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster on Tuesday.
— image credit: Vikki Hopes

A B.C. Supreme Court judge will rule on Friday morning whether to grant an injunction ordering residents of a homeless protest camp in Abbotsford to vacate the encampment.

The judge heard arguments from lawyers representing the city of Abbotsford and the homeless protesters on Tuesday morning.

Lawyers with Pivot Legal Society argued in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster that Abbotsford bylaws are “grossly unconstitutional” to the city’s homeless population.

Lawyers DJ Larkin and David Wotherspoon represented Barry Shantz of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors and a group of people occupying a homeless camp in Jubilee Park.

City of Abbotsford lawyers sought an order to have the tent camp removed from Jubilee Park and to have a wooden structure in an adjacent parking lot dismantled.

Shantz, four members of the camp and a few supporters were in the courtroom for the proceedings.

Wotherspoon argued that granting the injunction would cause “irreparable harm” to the occupants of the camp. He said if they are forced to move on, the occupants will live in bushes, ditches and under bridges and “some will even die.”

He said city bylaws are in contravention of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Larkin stated that the occupants of the camp have nowhere else to go. She read from affidavits of some of the occupants who, prior to the camp, were sleeping in various locations around the city.

Now that they are in a group setting, they feel safe, Larkin said.

Earlier in the proceedings, lawyer James Yardley, representing the city, said the homeless camp and the wooden structure were set up in contravention of city bylaws.

He said occupants have been lighting campfires in the park, littering, using drugs and alcohol, getting involved in physical assaults, and being confrontational.

This behaviour has destroyed park use for the public and has prevented city staff from providing maintenance, Yardley added. He disputed claims there is nowhere else for the homeless to go, saying B.C. Housing rental subsidies and housing alternatives have been offered through the Salvation Army, and they turned them down.

But Larkin explained that the occupants of the camp do not qualify for most shelters, which require people to be drug- and alcohol-free and not have behavioral issues. She said the people living in the park have addiction and mental health issues and are considered “hard to house.”

Larkin said that if the injunction is not granted, they will call for an expedited trial to address the constitutional issues of Abbotsford’s bylaws.

If it is granted, she said the people living in the park don’t know what they will do or where they will go.

The protest camp began Oct. 22 with members of the Drug War Survivors announcing they would spend three days in Jubilee Park. The camp remained for more than a month, and on Nov. 25 the city issued an eviction notice.

On Dec. 11, with a court date pending, the protesters relocated to a large wooden structure – erected overnight with help from an unknown donor – in the parking lot adjacent to Jubilee Park.

Last Friday, the city went to court and received an injunction calling for the protesters to vacate the structure, though the order was not enforced.  The protesters did leave the structure early this week and relocated to a strip of Jubilee Park that was not behind the fence.

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