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BC government introduces forced shelter bill

Housing and social development minister Rich Coleman introduced legislation today that will allow police to force homeless people to go to shelters during extreme weather.

“This act will give police a tool to say, 'You have to go to the shelter,'” said Coleman. Once offered a bed and a meal, most people will choose to stay, he said. “We just think we need the tool to get them there.”

Coleman described how police officers will be able to use the new authority: “If you're on the street and you walk up to someone and you say, 'You know, it's 30 below zero and you're going to freeze out here.' And they say, 'I'm not going anywhere.' You say, 'Well actually there's a shelter and I have the authority to take you to the shelter.'”

Coleman acknowledged the bill may face a charter challenge in court. “Our advice is this one could be challenged and frankly I think that's healthy,” he said.

The bill comes to the legislature the day before the Olympic torch relay begins. Asked if it is part of a plan to sweep the streets of homeless people before and during the Olympic Games in Vancouver, Coleman said. “That always comes up but I'm going to tell you it's absolutely wrong . . . This has got nothing to do with the Olympics.”

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

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