Written by Jessica Magonet
Housing is a human right, but Prince George has been fighting people experiencing homelessness in court for months. Last week, the city finally withdrew its appeal against unhoused people living in a tent city in Moccasin Flats, near downtown Prince George. The city also apologized for the harm it caused by bulldozing the encampment.
The BCCLA, along with Pivot Legal Society, and the BC Assembly of First Nations had been granted leave to intervene in the city’s appeal. We intended to argue that injunctions sought by the government must respect Charter rights, and in particular, the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person of unhoused people. You can read our memorandum of argument here. We were represented in this intervention by Julia Riddle of Nathanson, Schachter & Thompson LLP.
People are living in Moccasin Flats because they have nowhere else to go. There is not enough affordable housing in Prince George. The shelter system is often full or inaccessible. Further, a constellation of Prince George bylaws makes it illegal for residents to shelter anywhere on public land. Two recent reports from the BC Assembly of First Nations show the profound impact of Prince George’s Safe Streets Bylaw on unhoused people.
The BCCLA is happy that this litigation has finally come to an end, but we are deeply concerned by what has brought us to this point.
- In August 2021, the city applied for an injunction to evict unhoused residents living in Moccasin Flats. In October, the BC Supreme Court released it decision in Prince George (City) v. Stewart, 2021 BCSC and denied this injunction. The Court ruled that the tent city residents should not be evicted because there were not enough accessible shelter spaces for them.
- In November 2021, Prince George disobeyed the Stewart decision and bulldozed the Moccasin Flats encampment, leaving many residents with nowhere to go.
- The city then went back to court to try to get another injunction to close the encampment. In February 2022, the BC Supreme Court denied this injunction as well. In Prince George (City) Johnny, 2022 BCSC 282, the Court concluded that there still was not enough housing for the Moccasin Flats residents and that Prince George had breached a court order by tearing down the encampment. The Court noted that “[t]his breach inflicted serious harm on vulnerable people” (para. 82).
- Prince George then appealed the Stewart decision, which they finally withdrew in March 2022.
Municipalities should invest their resources in providing housing and addressing the root causes of homelessness instead of fighting vulnerable people in court. Suing people experiencing homeless will never solve homelessness. It is time to take a different approach.