Vancouver housing dispute results in landmark ruling for queer people with disabilities

A lawsuit between old friends threatened a queer person with disabilities with displacement. As Kier Junos reports, the outcome of the case sets a legal precedent for the right to stay in queer-friendly communities.

A lawsuit between old friends in Vancouver threatened to displace a queer person with disabilities. But the outcome of the case has set a legal precedent for people’s right to stay in queer-friendly communities.

Cynthia Brooke has lived in East Vancouver for 35 years. They bought a home in 2001 with their wife and another queer couple, living with just a wall in between them. The couples lived like family in two separate units in the queer-friendly neighbourhood.

“The dream, at the time, was that we’d each have our own forever home,” Brooke explained.

“I keep this little portion as a reminder over the last 20 years of where we’ve come. That’s what the floor literally looked like when we moved into the house,” they said, referring to a small space at the bottom of a staircase in the home.

But in 2007, Brooke’s wife, Marianna, died of cancer. Then, their neighbour’s spouse died in a plane crash two years later.

The relationship between the widowers began to fall apart. Because they owned both units together, they got stuck in an 11-year deadlock over the future of their shared home.

“She decided to go court to try and force the sale of both pieces of property,” Brooke said of the co-owner. “I’ve only ever imagined that I would be here for the rest of my life. My wife, who passed away, that’s all that she imagined. She died in this home. Her ashes are in the backyard, in her garden that she created in this home.”

Brooke admits the lawsuit has been “extremely difficult because I have been medically retired by my doctor. I am disabled.”

They tell CityNews they believed they had little chance of winning the suite at all. But in March, the judge ruled to decline the forced sale of the property, setting a legal precedent.

“If you live in a particular queer-positive community that’s of importance to you, it will factor, likely, into future judges’ decisions,” explained human rights lawyer Dustin Klaudt. “And it’s long been noted that having our own queer-positive spaces is so vital to the mental health and well being, generally, of queer individuals.”

Ruling is ‘significant’, lawyer says

“On the issue of housing rights for both queer and disabled folks, I think it’s just important that those particular identity factors are being actively considered by justices and likely will be in the future,” Klaudt added.

“It reasserts that a disabled person has a right to remain in their home and not face the hardship of losing home. It specifically states that I have a right as a queer person to live in a neighbourhood that is culturally significant to me,” Brooke added of the decision.

Brooke’s partner River has been living with them for the last 13 years. They say their home has been a refuge for fellow queer folks and others in the neighbourhood, with dinner parties and political gatherings hosted there over the years.

A photo of Cynthia Brooke and their partner, River, as they stand on the stoop of their home

Cynthia Brooke and their partner, River, have set up a GoFundMe page to help recover thousands of dollars that were spent on legal fees fighting to prevent the forced sale of Brooke’s home in Vancouver. (Courtesy GoFundMe)

Klaudt says Brooke’s win means the courts are finally working for queer people beyond the realm of getting government benefits or fighting systemic oppression.

“Why this case is significant is that, you know, after years and years of advocacy from many different folks in the courts in another for a … we can actually talk about other factors with respect to queer identity, like access to an inclusive community and how the law should respond accordingly to that,” he explained.

The court is now encouraging the owners to turn the house into a duplex or for the owners to buy each other out. It says a sale of the whole property is unnecessary because it’s easy to divide.

Until the co-owners come to an agreement, Brooke and their partner are working to replenish the tens of thousands of dollars lost to legal fees — crowdsourcing donations.

As of Thursday morning, the GoFundMe page had raised more than $26,000 of the $95,000 goal.

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