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Homeless in Abbotsford shouldn't be blamed for defecating in public: lawyer

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August 05, 2015 - 7:00 AM

NEW WESTMINSTER - The City of Abbotsford is wrong to criminalize the homeless with bylaws that prohibit people from setting up camps in public spaces, a lawyer has argued.

David Wotherspoon, with the Pivot Legal Society, said the city has discriminated against the homeless through various measures including dumping chicken manure on an encampment.

He wants a B.C. Supreme Court judge to declare such tactics unconstitutional.

The city is blaming the homeless for leaving human waste and garbage at camps but isn't providing needed services, Wotherspoon told Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson on Tuesday.

"People make garbage, people have to urinate, people have to defecate. They have to do it somewhere," he said.

"Blaming Abbotsford's homeless for the existence of those circumstances is, effectively, blaming the victim," said Wotherspoon, who represents the War Drug Survivors.

"Suggesting that Abbotsford's homeless should be responsible for the choice of being homeless is wrong.

"There are real choices being made, but those are choices that relate to the city — the choice not to provide a variety of services."

Wotherspoon has told the trial, which began in June, that police have pepper sprayed the homeless and city workers dumped chicken manure on a campsite two years ago in an effort to get them to move on.

Lawyers for the city were expected to make closing arguments later Tuesday in response to the lawsuit.

The War Drug Survivors represent at least 151 homeless people and maintain that the city's 25 available shelter beds, provided by the Salvation Army, can't accommodate everyone.

Abbotsford has already presented evidence suggesting more housing is available, but the group counters that most of the spaces are difficult to access, especially for drug addicts.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is an intervener in the case and its lawyer also argued in favour of striking down the bylaws.

"It falls to the city to craft the bylaws that respect constitutional rights," said Alison Latimer.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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