A homeless camp on Gladys Avenue in Abbotsford in 2013 is the subject of a complaint that will proceed to a hearing of the Human Rights Tribunal. (Abbotsford News file photo)

Human-rights complaint by 5 homeless men in Abbotsford will proceed to hearing

Issues occurred in 2013 around time of infamous manure-spreading incident

An incident in Abbotsford in 2013 in which police pepper-sprayed the tent and personal items of a homeless man and took the belongings of four others will proceed to a hearing of the Human Rights Tribunal.

The hearing will determine whether the five men were discriminated against by the Abbotsford Police Department and the City of Abbotsford around the time of the infamous manure incident on June 4, 2013.

The complaint on behalf of the five men – all of whom have Indigenous heritage – was brought forward by the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS).

At the time of the incidents addressed in the complaint, the men were all living outside in tents or improvised structures on Gladys Avenue in east Abbotsford by a tree they called the “Happy Tree.”

Tribunal documents indicate that on or around April 24, 2013, a police officer used pepper spray on the tents and belongings of at least two people.

One of those people – Adam McLaren – returned to the camp and noticed a strong smell like pepper spray.

“When he opened his tent, he says the pepper spray hit him right in the face: ‘My eyes were watering and burning, my skin was burning,’ “ the documents state.

“The pepper spray destroyed Mr. McLaren’s camp and threw him into chaos. He says he had lost everything and had to start over.”

On June 4 of that year, city workers arrived with truckloads of chicken manure, which they spread around the camp.

RELATED: Manure dumped on homeless camp

RELATED: Manure incident focuses attention back on homeless issue

The complainants said they panicked and had to leave most – or all – of their belongings behind as they fled. When they returned later, their items were gone.

But the DWS states in the complaint that the men’s belongings were taken at other times as well.

For example, one of the men would collect recycling to make a bit of money, and “on many occasions” the city workers took his recycling away, the documents state.

The workers also took the man’s personal items such as bedding, tarps, tools, his wallet and his ID, the complaint alleges.

The man said the actions made him feel “invaded and belittled.”

“It’s like a race when the City comes. I pack up as much as I can as fast as I can. What I can’t grab fast enough gets taken,” the man stated.

The Human Rights Tribunal complaint was initially filed in November 2013, but was delayed due to a civil claim that DWS launched against the City of Abbotsford.

That matter went through a lengthy trial in 2015, and overturned Abbotsford’s bylaws prohibiting overnight camping in parks but upheld the city’s ability to ban permanent encampments on public land.

RELATED: City, homeless advocates both pleased with case outcome

Abbotsford Police and the City of Abbotsford then applied to have the human-rights complaint dismissed, but in a decision last month, the Human Rights Tribunal agreed to dismiss only the portions addressing the chicken-manure incident.

The tribunal said that matter had already been addressed by the courts during the trial, when it was determined that although the spreading of the chicken manure was “disgraceful and worthy of the court’s disapproval,” it did not breach the charter rights of any individual.

The Human Rights Tribunal hearing will, therefore, address only the two other issues – the pepper-spraying of McLaren’s tent and the taking of the belongings of the five men.

A date for the hearing has not yet been set.

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Vikki Hopes | Reporter

@VikkiHopes

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