Homeless people in an encampment in Abbotsford, B.C., have been subjected to "systemic forced evictions," including an incident in which city stuff dumped chicken manure on campsites, a lawyer said Friday as he argued against a bylaw that prohibits anyone from setting up a shelter in public spaces.
David Wotherspoon, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, said in addition to the chicken manure, police have pepper sprayed people's belongings, cut up tents and laid down tree trunks in a series of "displacement tactics."
"We're not asking court to order that housing be provided," Wotherspoon told a B.C. Supreme Court judge.
"But what the court can do is tell the City of Abbotsford that if those necessities are not being provided in some other way, they cannot interfere with an individual's efforts to obtain them themselves."
Wotherspoon's assertion comes at the culmination of a five-week trial in a case launched by the Drug War Survivors, who are challenging city bylaws that make it illegal to set up shelters in public spaces.
The group representing the area's homeless contends the city has been consistently violating their Charter rights.
Pivot argues a decision in the group's favour would establish a right for homeless people to camp in public spaces, and it would be a crucial step toward recognizing a right to housing in Canada.
The court heard there were at least 151 homeless in Abbotsford in 2014, people who have been consistently chased from site to site rather than be offered genuine living assistance.
They have been criminalized to the point where there's no place where they won't be breaking the law, Wotherspoon said in his closing arguments.
The city's lawyers have said multiple facilities are available, but Wotherspoon called the claim a "red herring." Only 25 true beds can be counted, he said.
Some of the city's so-called shelters are actually treatment centres that have a high threshold for admittance, he said.
"What Abbotsford's goal has really been is to move people out of Abbotsford," he said.
Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson raised concerns with the lawyer's argument.
"I have some very serious concerns about perpetuating a situation where there are hundreds of hypodermic needles, human feces, rotting garbage. It's an unhealthy environment," said the judge.
"If your clients aren't able to avoid those kind of problems, giving them carte blanch to stay as long as they like in a location doesn't seem to be an effective answer."
Outside court, a former homeless man of 15 years described his struggles on the street and said he hopes the judge allocates land for people to inhabit.
"I've lived out there. I've been freezing cold where my hands were so numb I had to warm my hands over a candle," said Harvey Clause, 54, who testified at the trial.
"I think we have a chance to do something for people. We do, if the judge is willing to give us a chance."
The trial is scheduled to conclude next week.