B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal will hear a case about police pepper-spraying homeless people in tents but not about Abbotsford workers putting chicken manure around their camp ‘happy tree.’
The long-running case, which already saw Charter of Rights and Freedoms arguments before B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson in 2015.
There, the City of Abbotsford had sought to stop people from pitching tents in city parks. The British Columbia/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, led by Barry Shantz, countered city bylaws prohibiting that activity were unconstitutional.
The city had sought damages against Shantz for trespassing, a claim Hinkson dismissed.
(Shantz was shot dead by police in Lytton in January).
Hinkson did strike down parts of the bylaws.
“The spreading of the chicken manure at the Happy Tree Camp was disgraceful and worthy of the court’s disapproval,” Hinkson said, before ruling there were no charter breaches.
Hinkson also found while the pepper spraying could not be condoned, he could not find evidence to support a charter breach.
The tribunal action followed the Supreme Court action. The city applied for the complaint to be dismissed, saying Hinkson had addressed it.
And, tribunal member Devyn Cousineau agreed the manure situation had been dealt with.
In that situation, city workers had shown up in June 2013 and began shovelling manure around the camp as uniformed officers watched.
“There is no dispute that this tactic was intended to remove, and deter, people from sleeping at the happy tree,” Cousineau wrote in the April 1 decision.
“I was disgusted that they would do that to us. It made me feel like nothing and nobody,” said camp resident Dale Coutrille, who lost all his belongings in the incident.
Abbotsford’s mayor later apologized for the incident.
On April 24, 2013, police pepper-sprayed tents and belongings of at least two people, Cousineau said.
Adam McLaren said he came out of his tent and was hit by the spray in the face. “My eyes were watering and burning, my skin was burning,” he said.
Cousineau said while protocols on such uses of pepper spray have changed, it does not address discrimination against those affected at the camp.
McLaren, who testified he is half Aboriginal, said officers knew of him and his heroin addiction.
“Given the composition of the homeless population in Abbotsford, it may have been reasonable for the officer to infer that the tent belonged to someone who was either Indigenous and/or had a disability,” Cousineau said.
Cousineau further said the case is made “on behalf of a very marginalized group in our society and is a matter of significant public interest. In such circumstances, any decision by the tribunal should be made on the basis of an evidentiary record and fulsome arguments.”