Published in The Tyee | December 20, 2013 | Circulation: 340,000 unique monthly readers
As temperatures plummet and snow billows down before the holidays, today a B.C. Supreme Court judge ordered the eviction of an Abbotsford homeless camp by 4 p.m. Saturday.
Justice Murray Blok approved an injunction for the city, after months of legal wrangling and a previous eviction order against the Jubilee Park encampment, and authorized police to “dispose” of their structures and arrest anyone interfering.
The camp saw its residents camped out since October in the park and inside a wooden structure in a nearby parking lot, which must itself be removed by Monday. The move to Jubilee followed the city slashing their tents at a previous location in early June dumping chicken manure into their lodgings, for which the city manager later apologized after widespread media attention.
“The City of Abbotsford will be serving this notice to the protest organizers as well as to all current residents at the encampment at Jubilee Park today,” the city stated in a press release today. “Jubilee camp must be vacated by 4:00 pm tomorrow … All tents and belongings must be removed.”
The statement added that community service agencies will be present until the eviction “offering all persons requiring shelter accommodations,” and that the Salvation Army would offer those evicted “temporary storage for anyone entering a shelter that needs to store belongings.”
In his decision, the Supreme Court judge ruled that the defendants must “forthwith cease, and shall be enjoined and restrained from erecting, placing, constructing or building tents, shelters, and other constructions in the lands known as Jubilee Park.”
Pivot Legal Society, which was in court advocating for the encampment’s residents, warned in a statement earlier this week that evicting the camp would “place a sweeping set of restrictions on homeless peoples’ access to parks and other public spaces across Abbotsford.”
“Obviously we were very disappointed,” Pivot housing lawyer DJ Larkin told Tyee Solutions Society. “They know the importance of complying, but the reality is they’re panicking right now.”
She said that homeless campers are now “honestly trying” to find shelter, but with the judge basing his decision on the city’s promise there are enough shelter beds available to house the 30 to 40 residents, Larkin questioned if the listed lodgings are in fact available to them. “The reality is, we don’t know if that’s actually the case,” she said.
But Justice Blok concluded that “there will be places for them to go,” he told the court. One of the camp’s residents, who identified himself as “Tiny,” told the Abbotsford News, “It’s a despicable thing to do before Christmas.
“There is no human aspect to this,” he added. “How can you make a judgment like this on people who are just trying to survive?”
In November, Pivot filed its own complaint before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal on behalf of homeless residents over police coating their tents with pepper spray, slashing their belongings and dumping chicken manure over the makeshift lodgings.
“We have to take it to trial so these laws can be struck down, so these people don’t continue to be displaced,” Larkin said. “This is unconstitutional.
“They are making people’s lives dangerous. The bylaws have to go and they have to do better.”
In November, Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman argued the camp was a safety issue.
“Since the weather turned cold we now have people using open barbecues, open heaters, candles, the tents and clumped together, this is a real fire hazard,” he told CBC News on Nov. 26. “There’s not that many that are really homeless in that particular camp. So we will work with them to make sure we find them a place.”