Surrey reviewing B.C. supreme court ruling on homeless right to camp in Abbotsford

Last winter, Surrey had to shut down two homeless camps within two months

A man at a homeless camp in Whalley right before it was dismantled in December 2014.

A man at a homeless camp in Whalley right before it was dismantled in December 2014.

SURREY — The City of Surrey will be reviewing a B.C. Supreme Court ruling Wednesday that supported the right of homeless campers in Abbotsford to create tent cities on public lands.

In his ruling, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled Abbotsford’s policies violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and called the use of chicken manure “disgraceful.”

In 2013, Abbotsford city workers dumped chicken manure on an encampment on Gladys Avenue in attempts to force campers out.

While Hinkson noted there is a need for people to have shelter and rest during the day, he didn’t order the city to designate a piece of land for a permanent encampment. Instead he suggested following a Court of Appeal decision in Victoria to allow the city’s homeless to set up shelters in public spaces between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.

Surrey’s bylaw manager Jas Rehal said the City of Surrey will be reviewing the case, but said their approach is different.

“When we’re dealing with camps, we take an approach of trying to find them places to go. We don’t go hard with enforcement first, we go hard with service providers and outreach. Abbotsford’s case was a little different.”

Last February, the city, RCMP and outreach workers descended on a homeless camp in the Whalley area for the second time in two months.

First, a long-standing tent city in the heart of Whalley was dismantled in December 2014. The tents were spread amongst four lots, three that are privately owned and one that belongs to the city.

But it didn’t take long for tents to pop up elsewhere.

In early February, officials were across from the Gateway Shelter dismantling another group of tents that had set up along the sidewalk.

Since then, Rehal said there hasn’t been any significant camps in the city.

“We get the odd tent popping up here and there, but nothing to that extent,” he said.

Surrey will have a winter shelter this year after two years without one, and Rehal hopes that will help during this year’s cold season. It is set to open in November.

Rehal said the city will be reviewing the court ruling in the next week to see if it will need to amend its strategy.

With files from the Vancouver Sun