Home / Five Reasons Why the Community Safety Act Should Never Come to Life in BC

Five Reasons Why the Community Safety Act Should Never Come to Life in BC

Door with sign saying Eviction Notice

The BC government passed the Community Safety Act in 2013 but it has never taken effect. The BC government recently reintroduced this troublesome Act by passing the Community Safety Amendment Act (Bill 13), which received Royal Assent on October 31st, 2019. BC’s Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has committed to implementing it in the near future to help “[p]eople living near ‘crack shacks’ and other dangerous nuisance properties.”[1]

If brought to life, occupants of a property, including homeowners, can be forced to vacate if a court finds that certain activities, which adversely affect the neighbourhood, have been occurring there. This process could be initiated by an anonymous complaint filed by a neighbour.

The BCCLA is staunchly opposed to this legislation for many reasons, and here are the top five:

1. The law is unnecessary.

It will circumvent laws with better procedural safeguards such as the Criminal Code and the Residential Tenancy Act, both of which already have provisions to deal with properties associated with criminal activities. The standard of proof required in getting a property closed is lower than what it would be in a criminal case.

2. The law will unjustly put people’s housing security at risk.

Anonymous complaints from neighbours could trigger an investigation by government officials and result in court orders targeting one or more occupants of the dwelling. Although the government keeps referring to “crack shacks” when defending the law, it can affect individuals and families whose activities are as benign as underage drinking or growing a cannabis plant that is publically visible. The habitual consumption of an “intoxicating substance” by a person of any age—even if they do not live on the property—can also be grounds for a complaint.

3. The law will disproportionately impact vulnerable, and often over-policed, communities.

In the spring, we joined a coalition of individuals and groups to draw the government’s attention to this problem, highlighting that Indigenous women and girls remain particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of state action, and to urge them to abandon it. In the context of growing racial tensions in BC, and throughout Canada, this law will open an avenue for targeted harassment driven by racism and other forms of prejudice. Many who are targeted in other provinces with similar draconian laws are “the more marginalized members of society,” and are not willing to get involved with the justice system due to previous bad experiences; they simply accept an eviction rather than returning to a courtroom.[1]

4. The law will be expensive to administer and the government has not been transparent about the costs.

This is why we have launched an FOI request to find out the public investment needed to create an office for a new Director of Community Safety and a team of officers to investigate a broad spectrum of complaints across the province. The high costs of this program is the key reason why the law hasn’t been implemented since 2013, [1] and we will be sure to let the public know the projected costs of this unnecessary law as soon as we find out.  We are concerned about setting up an unnecessary and expensive program that other jurisdictions like New Brunswick have started to de-fund.[2]

5. The law is unfair and unjust.

Any finding of guilt in a person’s past—no matter how long ago—can be used as evidence against them, or their friends or family members, if it relates to the alleged activities. Furthermore, if a person is found to not be criminally responsible, due to a mental disorder or other mental health issues, the court will still be allowed to draw negative conclusions about their current activities. No one should have their housing threatened because of a previous or ongoing disability.

[1] “I got to the point where I could pinpoint them watching my house’; Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods legislation marks 10 years”, Saskatoon Star Phoenix (online), June 22,2015, https://thestarphoenix.com/news/saskatchewan/i-got-to-the-point-where-i-could-pinpoint-them-watching-my-house-safer-communities-and-neighbourhoods-legislation-marks-10-years

[2] “Program against drug houses is a bust,”  Times Colonist (online), May 19, 2016, https://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/columnists/les-leyne-program-against-drug-houses-is-a-bust-1.2258473.

[3] “Program that let tipsters report neighbours cut back,”   The Daily Gleaner, August 24, 2019.