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Lawyers point out error of Victoria's new anti-camping policy

Lawyers acting for homeless campers have written a letter to the city of Victoria's lawyers saying they believe the city's new bylaw enforcement policy is illegal.

“It appears that the Enforcement Policy is not supported by any bylaw,” wrote Catherine Boies Parker, who along with Irene Faulkner represented the homeless in the October 14 Supreme Court of B.C. win.

The court struck down several sections of the city's bylaws, finding they “are of no force and effect insofar and only insofar as they apply to prevent homeless people from erecting temporary shelter.” The city council responded by adopting a new enforcement policy that includes prohibiting tents between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.. It has also said it will appeal the ruling.

In her letter, Boies Parker pointed out the city can not have an enforcement policy for a bylaw which is “of no force and effect.”

“It is our position that enforcement action such as that which was recently taken against the campers in Beacon Hill Park cannot be supported by a mere policy which is not grounded in any bylaw,” she said.

The city can pass a new bylaw to reflect their policy, she said, but added it is unlikely to stand up to a court challenge. “An absolute prohibition on erecting shelter between the hours of 7 am and 9 pm will again lead to the result that there will be many times when the homeless will still be prohibited from erecting shelter for themselves when they need to sleep or otherwise require protection from the elements.”

The letter acknowledged many of the eight candidates for mayor in Victoria, as well as council candidates, have made statements about what they will do about the ruling if they are elected. Whatever they do should take the Court's ruling into account, but shouldn't stop there, she said.

“We would expect that given the importance of this issue to the people of Victoria, Council may well choose to craft a response which is more compassionate and more creative than that which is strictly required by the Charter.”

Boies Parker and Faulkner are holding a public meeting at 4 p.m. today to discuss what the ruling means. Watch for more tents to go up afterward, perhaps this time to stay.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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