BC Court says homeless can camp in parks
B.C. court says homeless can camp in parks
Jim Gibson , Canwest News Service
Published: Victoria Times-Colonist, Tuesday, October 14, 2008
VICTORIA - The city's homeless can now set up camp in Victoria parks, according to a B.C. Supreme Court decision Tuesday.
"Yesterday it was illegal to set up my tent. Today it isn't," said David Johnston, one of the homeless activists who argued they have a right to sleep outdoors on public property.
Lawyer Catherine Boies Parker, who acted on behalf of the homeless campers in their court challenge of the city's anti-camping bylaw, confirmed the 108-page judgment upheld their argument that a City of Victoria bylaw that prohibits using "temporary abodes" like tents and large tarpaulins for shelter in parks and public spaces violates the rights of the homeless.
She said the judgment noted that in the absence of sufficient safe and secure beds for the homeless, it was unconstitutional for the city to prevent them from erecting some form of shelter to protect themselves from the elements.
The decision came three years after a group was arrested in October 2005 for setting up a "tent city" in a Victoria park. The eviction sparked the court challenge.
"We don't have to search every morning and night for a place to sleep," Johnston said.
He predicted that tent cities will spring up in other municipalities once the decision becomes widely known.
Such encampments "might be the thing which saves us from the economic crush," he said.
At a city hall news conference, Mayor Alan Lowe predicted the impact of the decision will be felt throughout Canada.
"This judgment demonstrates what years of cuts to social programming and housing programs has done. Municipal governments were never in the business of providing housing and social support services to individuals in need," Lowe said, calling on higher levels of government to respond to the court decision.
The judgment does not bode well for city parks, Lowe warned. "Our city parks are not equipped to support camping of any kind.
"We've seen first hand the ill effects of tent cities. In 2005 . . . we saw a tent city that had become a hub of illegal activity, health concerns and vandalism," he said.
"These are not acceptable conditions for our parks and green spaces, but even more importantly these conditions are not acceptable for the homeless."
Lowe said there were no winners with the judgment. "This is still no way to accommodate our homeless and will be detrimental to the families and children that enjoy our park system."
At the conference, acting police Chief Bill Naughton said police will respond "situationally" to any homeless encampments.
"We'll see what confronts us and act accordingly," he said.
© Victoria Times Colonist 2008