Homeless in Vancouver: Pivot challenges city bylaws in provincial court

On Thursday, November 22, 2012, which is National Housing Day across Canada, Pivot Legal Society is filing a lawsuit in the British Columbia Supreme Court on behalf of the homeless, the group announced in an early morning press release.  The civil suit, they say, challenges the constitutionality of three Vancouver by-laws that prohibit sleeping outdoors on streets, parks, and other City property. The by-laws also prohibit a person from erecting a shelter against the elements. 

The suit is centered on plaintiff Clarence Leonard Taylor.  Pivot says Taylor was unable to find suitable and safe housing, and at age 57, was forced to live on the streets of Vancouver between March 2009 and January 2012.

During that time, Pivot says, Taylor was approached by Vancouver Police and City engineering staff approximately 100 times. He was issued several tickets under Vancouver by-laws for having "structures" on the street.    Taylor's story is told in detail in the affidavit to be filed with the case. 

"I've tried to stay at shelters and in SRO hotels, but was horrified by the violence I saw, and felt safer outside", said Taylor.  "I wasn't in anyone's way, but was consistently told I had to move somewhere by the police and engineers.  Where was I supposed to go?"

With the assistance of Pivot, Taylor is challenging the three City of Vancouver by-laws - Street and Traffic By-law, Parks Control By-law, and City Land Use Regulation By-law in a challenge similar to the Adams case in Victoria.  In his Notice of Civil Claim, Taylor states that the by-laws violate his Charter right to life, liberty and security of the person.

"The effect of these three by-laws is that there is no legal place a person can sleep or shelter themselves outside in Vancouver", said Pivot lawyer Scott Bernstein.  "On National Housing Day, we need to recognize that until our government is able to provide safe and affordable housing for all low-income people, there will be people who have to or choose to sleep outside.  Making this activity illegal increases the harm to them and violates their Charter rights."

In the Adams case of 2008, the BC Supreme Court held that City of Victoria by-laws that prohibited homeless people from erecting shelter over themselves in a city park violated Charter rights and was unconstitutional. That decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeal the following year.  Since 2008, Pivot says its lawyers have  been attempting to work with the City of Vancouver to amend its by-laws to reflect the court decision, however the City maintains that this decision does not apply to Vancouver, and continues to ticket homeless people for sleeping outside.

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Officers must learn to use discretion

I feel that the power handed out to by-law enforcement officers is often used without proper judgement or discretion. I believe they need more training in these matters.  Tickets are not effective in these instances, and not appropriate. I feel for this man and hope he finds the support he deserves from the system.