Proposed B.C. homeless law has critics worried
Published Monday, September 21, 2009 10:16PM EDT
A proposed law that would give the B.C. government the power to force people into homeless shelters has civil liberty activists crying foul.
According to government documents leaked to the BC Civil Liberties Association, the proposed legislation would allow authorities to make a declaration of extreme weather, which would then allow police to force a homeless person into a shelter.
B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman has acknowledged the legislation is in the works for the fall, but says it has nothing to do with the 2010 Winter Olympics in February -- a point of dispute with the civil liberty group.
Tom Sandborn, who serves on the board of directors for the BC Civil Liberties Association, says the documents do not directly refer to the Olympics, but "clearly that's the context almost every decision is being taken (under) right now."
"I think this is more about saving face for the government than saving lives on the street," he told CTV.ca Monday.
Sandborn said the documents were recently leaked to his office by someone who is well connected in the provincial government.
"We know they're authentic," Sandborn said.
One of the memos says that after a local declaration of extreme weather is made, notices would be given to a homeless person and a police officer would encourage those on the street to seek shelter.
If the homeless person refuses, the officer would be able to "use force."
"As a last resort, the individual may be taken to police cells, either voluntarily or involuntarily," the memo concludes.
Sandborn, who's not a lawyer, said the proposed law may be vulnerable to being challenged in court under several sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"The vast majority of people who are homeless and on the street don't have any objection to getting warm and dry," he said. But a small minority of homeless adults who are not subject to the Mental Health Act may choose not to go to shelters for a variety of reasons.
"The fact that a person is homeless doesn't mean that they stop being a Canadian citizen or stop being protected by the Charter of Rights."
Sandborn said the proposed law could prompt some homeless people to hide, potentially endangering their safety.
"They would go farther into the park, farther into the alleys, and we would find out about them when their corpses were found later on," he said.
Coleman said the government initially considered the legislation after a Vancouver woman died last winter after refusing to be taken to a shelter. She perished when she started a fire to keep warm.