B.C. municipalities calling for province to withdraw bill that would limit forced displacement of homeless encampments

The Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) is asking for the province to stop going ahead with legislation that it says would “limit the ability of local governments to manage homeless encampments.”

In a release Thursday, the UBCM said legal counsel has advised that Bill 45, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, is going to apply to local civic governments looking to seek court injunctions to “remove or regulate homeless encampments.”

According to the UBCM, President Trish Mandewo, a councillor in Coquitlam, shared concerns with the province’s housing minister in a meeting on Tuesday.

The UBCM’s request comes after Bill 45 was introduced in the legislature in the first week of November. The province said at that time it is trying to clarify what amenities an alternative shelter should have if a city is seeking a court injunction to enforce bylaws related to encampments.

That includes a staffed shelter where forced displaced people can stay overnight, have access to a bathroom and shower, and get something to eat.

The province says it has been trying to “set a standard” for clarity for enforcing bylaws through injunctions and providing those who are unhoused with adequate shelter space.

The UBCM believes, however, that it is “highly unlikely” that any community in B.C. has sufficient shelter space for all people experiencing homelessness, “so there is reason to believe that it would be practically impossible for local governments seeking an injunction to meet this test.”

“A likely unintended consequence of the amendment is that unhoused persons will be able to set up shelter in parks, sports fields, city halls, and sidewalks, knowing that local governments will not be granted an injunction for decampment. This can potentially lead to the establishment of long-term or permanent encampments in public spaces,” the UBCM asserted.

The UBCM says local governments will have “one less tool to manage encampments, and the associated public safety, sanitation, and health concerns in the interim.”

Not enough shelter spaces to allow municipalities to forcibly remove encampments from public areas: UBCM

Speaking to CityNews Thursday, Mandewo said, from the UBCM’s perspective, the legislation has been rushed through.

“There wasn’t any due diligence or consultation that was done. So, we think that the proper thing for the government to do is to withdraw it at this time.”

Mandewo affirms that it is the province’s job to provide shelter beds and housing, not local municipalities. While the province’s proposed legislation is receiving critiques for being too basic, Mandewo agrees that policy objectives across B.C. should be to get unhoused people homes.

“Encampments or overnight shelters are not a solution for people without a home,” she said.

“But where we disagree in this case, is the legal implications of this legislation. … Currently, someone without a home has a charter-protected right to shelter overnight in a public park. Municipalities may identify through their bylaws which spaces can be used for sheltering, and municipalities can also apply for court injunctions when necessary to enforce their bylaws.

“[But] the proposed amendment requires a local government then to … provide evidence that there is reasonably available shelter space to the quality outlined in the legislation, which we can’t do because there aren’t enough shelters. So, in other words, we won’t be able to decamp encampments that will be there.”

When asked if municipalities should be applying to forcibly displace people from encampments when councils know that there are not enough shelter spaces, Mandewo reiterated that it is not the municipalities’ jurisdiction to provide housing — it is the province’s.

“Bill 45 would take away the key tools for managing sheltering from local governments,” she said.

“We all agree that the solution needs to be there, but the solution is housing, and not tying the municipalities’ hands.”

On Monday, Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said he is not committing to withdrawing the proposed legislation, but would consult with the UBCM and the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

It comes as Pivot Legal Society’s staff lawyer Anna Cooper says the new legislation falls short of legal precedents for when a person can be removed from an encampment.

“If the government actually wants to go back to the table and work on drafting legislation that is human rights compliant and bring it back, that is an option. But that’s not these provisions,” Cooper told CityNews Monday.

Cooper says the rules need to account for a person’s accessibility needs and notes that the current legislation only says there needs to be a bathroom “nearby” the shelter, not necessarily in the shelter itself.

“Existing provisions don’t even say that there needs to be a bed; doesn’t say that there needs to be an accessible bathroom; let alone one on site … The space has to actually accommodate people with various disabilities,” Cooper added.

B.C. premier says UBCM reaction to bill surprising

Speaking to media Thursday afternoon, B.C. Premier David Eby said he was “surprised” by the reaction from the UBCM regarding Bill 45.

“I have to admit to a little bit of surprise that municipalities and the provincial government have such different understandings of the legislation that has gone forward here,” he said.

“This legislation recognizes an existing court decision around removing encampments, the standard that governments need to meet to be able to remove an encampment — that there’s shelter available that’s dignified, that people have privacy, and so on.”

Eby explained that with this legislation, the government is trying to avoid what he says has occurred south of the border in Oregon and California, where an array of contradictory court decisions have happened.

“By having a clear standard, we assist judges, we assist communities, and the provincial government to know what standard we have to meet,” he said.

Eby explains that he is proposing to the housing minister is for the government to hold the application for royal ascent, and instead work with municipalities about their concerns.

With files from Liza Yuzda

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