Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says he wants a review of how city bylaws against camping on sidewalks and in parks are being enforced, saying he wants to ensure homeless people are not being punished.
Mr. Robertson issued a statement Thursday afternoon hours after Clarence Taylor, 57, filed a civil lawsuit against the city.
Mr. Taylor said he lived on the street between 2009 and 2012 because he couldn’t find suitable or safe housing. He said he was approached about 100 times by police and city engineering staff who gave him several tickets for building structures on the street.
“I’ve tried to stay at shelters and in [single-room occupancy] hotels, but was horrified by the violence I saw and felt safer outside,” said Mr. Taylor, who is working with the Pivot Legal Society on the suit.
“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?”
Mr. Robertson said he hadn’t seen the suit and didn’t want to comment on its specifics.
But he said he has asked the city manager and the Vancouver police chief to give him current information on bylaw tickets issued to people who may be homeless.
“Being homeless is not a crime,” said Mr. Robertson in the statement. “Our goal with all bylaws is to strike a balance, and they should not be punitive towards vulnerable citizens. … We want to strike a balance between helping and protecting our most vulnerable citizens while ensuring all members of the public can fairly use and access our public spaces.”
Mr. Robertson said the city will wait for the outcome of the court process, but if changes need to be made, the city will do so.
Pivot is challenging the constitutionality of three city bylaws, claiming they violate the charter right to life, liberty and security of the person because they prohibit people from sleeping outdoors legally anywhere in the city.
“These by-laws harm homeless people because when you make an activity illegal, people are still going to do that activity if they have to,” said Pivot lawyer Scott Bernstein, who is representing Taylor in the case “What it means is that people are going to be doing it out of the public eye, they’re going to be moving to more secluded places, they’re going to be getting into darker areas away from the police eye as much as possible. This puts them into more harm,” he said.
“In September we actually had incidents in Stanley Park where homeless people were assaulted by members of the public. We think that’s tied into how these bylaws affect the public space and make people move to more remote areas to get away from police view,” Bernstein said.
In 2008, a similar bylaw was struck down in Victoria after advocates successfully argued camping should be allowed in public spaces when shelters are full.
The city changed its bylaws to allow camping at night, but not during the day, and that bylaw was also challenged.
In December 2010, a judge upheld the amended bylaw, ruling people don’t have a constitutional right to camp in city parks during the daytime because there are more services available during the day, including drop-in centres and shelters, and in Victoria’s temperate weather, daytime shelter isn’t always required.