You have the right to remain sleeping

Dec 12, 2009
Posted by Guest Blogger Alison
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According to the B.C. Court of Appeal, you and all people in B.C. have the right to camp in public parks and cannot be kicked out in the middle of the night, even if you have set up a tent in a downtown area. This decision confirmed a 2008 decision of the B.C. Supreme Court on the same issue. 

The Appellants, the City of Victoria were seeking to have the lower court’s decision reversed, arguing that the decision infringed on the ability of local governments to set their own public policy on the issue.  The Court trumped a City of Victoria bylaw that prohibited camping in public parks.  The original City of Victoria bylaw had been created after a 2005 incident in which people set up temporary shelters in a Victoria, B.C. park.  The City received complaints about the shelters which led to the prohibition.

But according to the B.C. Supreme Court (and now the B.C. Court of Appeal), there was a problem with the prohibition is the impact that prohibiting people from taking sheter in public parks has on the homeless and other disadvantaged people who do not have access to shelter at night.  The Court’s decision reflects their recognition of the basic charter rights of marginalized populations. 

Even street people have the right to liberty, independence and dignity.

So what will the ramifications of the decision be?  Well, it there may not be any immediate change, but as winter sets in, people who live on the street will slowly be able to feel more secure in taking shelter in parks, at least from the possibility of arrest.  And perhaps the issue will have brought greater awareness of the plight of homeless people.  The decision could even be used as a precedent for challenges in other provinces, including colder ones than B.C., where the large homeless population is due at least in part to the relatively mild climate as compared to the rest of Canada.

What does the decision mean for public policy on the issue of homeless in general?  Yes, people can now erect temporary shelters in the city during the night, which recognizes their liberty rights, but what about their right to "security of the person?"  Do the homeless really need legal access to public parks at night, or do they need more and better equiped indoor shelters where they are not turned away if they have medical conditions and hospitals where they are not turned away if they have addiction problems?  I would argue they need both.  Why we as a wealthy and relatively civilized nation have not yet been able to provide that is a question that should be sparked by this case. 

So while this decision is good news for the homeless, but hopefully it sheds light on an issue that is in need of attention: that of the way in which we care for the most disadvantaged people in our society. 

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