The plaintiffs in this case are challenging three city bylaws that have been used to displace Abbotsford’s homeless population from public spaces throughout the city.
In October 2013, a number of homeless individuals began living together on a small portion of Jubilee Park in Abbotsford. The City of Abbotsford responded by posting “eviction” notices and engaging in discussions with the group in an attempt to have them vacate the park. The City then initiated legal proceedings seeking declarations that these homeless individuals had contravened a number of bylaws. As a result of those proceedings, the applicants have launched this constitutional challenge to the bylaws and the actions taken by the City of Abbotsford to enforce them.
The applicants say that the City’s actions serve to marginalize and displace them, increase their vulnerability, impair their ability to protect their own lives, safety, security and health, and increase their risk of being victimized by violent crime and property theft. They claim that this is an unconstitutional infringement of their Charter rights to life, liberty, security of the person and equality, as well as their rights to freedom of association and assembly.
The BC Civil Liberties Association intervened in the case to argue that the bylaws infringe the liberty rights of homeless residents of Abbotsford by unreasonably restricting their access to public spaces, which are held in trust by governments for the use their residents. These restrictions are particularly egregious for homeless individuals because people who are homeless have no private space of their own, such that denial of the use of public space denies these individuals any space. This exclusion from public space significantly interferes with the ability of people who are homeless to participate in a meaningful way in the democratic life of the community, which is an important aspect of the right to liberty.
On October 21, 2015, the BC Supreme Court ruled that Abbotsford’s anti-homeless bylaws violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Chief Justice Hinkson determined that the homeless, like all citizens, have a right to access and use public spaces. He determined that the Abbotsford bylaws, which effectively prohibit sleeping or being in a city park overnight or erecting a temporary shelter without permits, are unconstitutional. The bylaws violate the rights to life, liberty and security of the person under s. 7 of the Charter, and are of no force and effect.
The BCCLA is represented by Alison Latimer of Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy LLP.