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Victoria campers win again in court

Three activists who have challenged the city of Victoria's anti-camping bylaws won another victory this morning.

Judge Brian MacKenzie found in his provincial court decision that Kristen Woodruff, Tavis Dodds and David Arthur Johnston, arrested in December for erecting tents in the square behind city hall, were not guilty of breaking the city's bylaws.

“It means the court basically accepted our argument and agreed with us,” said lawyer Irene Faulkner.

She and legal partner Catherine Boies Parker last year won a landmark Supreme Court of B.C. case that struck down the city's anti-camping bylaws. The city responded by setting time limits that required tents to be removed each day by 7 a.m..

Faulkner and Boies Parker argued the city could not have an enforcement policy for a bylaw the Supreme Court found to be “of no force and effect insofar and only insofar as they apply to prevent homeless people from erecting temporary shelter.”

In light of the ruling, Faulkner said, McKenzie agreed. “He could only find them not guilty,” she said. “The city basically has to go back to the drawing board if they want to re-enact or amend bylaws.”

A city media release said mayor Dean Fortin will respond to the ruling this afternoon. The city is appealing the Supreme Court decision.

"All this 'right to sleep outside' court stuff far transcends the 'homeless' question," Woodruff wrote in an e-mail yesterday. "It's maybe less about 'homelessness' than it is about whether or not it is legal to live outside our society's dominant definitions of what it means to be a human being, what it means to 'be normal.'"

UPDATE: "The city would like to see more housing, not tents," Fortin told reporters at a 2 p.m. press conference. The city council will meet January 29 to get briefed on the ruling and discuss how to proceed, he said, adding that he's already requested meetings with provincial housing minister Rich Coleman and Attorney General Wally Oppal.

"We support housing too," said Faulkner, who was at City Hall to hear Fortin's comments. The promise of housing some day in the future does little to help people who lack shelter today, she said. "Our concern if for people tonight, tomorrow night and every night."

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

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