Regional bylaw may need more than a rewrite to allow eviction of encampment residents

By Casey Taylor

Going back to the drawing board may not be good enough when it comes to a new ruling preventing eviction at a local encampment.

That had been one of the suggestions following a Superior Court ruling last week which now prevents the Region of Waterloo from moving to evict residents of an encampment at the corner of Victoria and Weber streets in Kitchener.

“This is the first decision of its kind in Ontario where a court has ruled that an encampment eviction like this would violate residents' Section 7 charter rights,” said Ashley Schuitema with Waterloo Region Community Legal Services and co-counsel on this case.

Section 7 of the Charter specifically refers to the right to life, liberty, and security of the person, as well as the right not to be deprived thereof.

The decision that eviction, in this case, would violate those rights has been billed as a landmark one here in Ontario, though Schuitema said it is not without precedent elsewhere in the country.

“This is flowing from 15 years of case law which has developed in British Columbia which we relied on and asked the judge to rely on, but this is the first of its kind in Ontario,” she said. “So it's… it's huge.”

Essentially, the court in this case has said the region cannot move in to force people out if there's not a proper plan in place for where each of them will go.

It's also not enough to have the right number of spaces available, they have to meet individual needs.

“The numbers don't really tell the full story,” said Shannon Down, also co-counsel on this case. “You could have 30 beds available tonight but if 20 of them are in the youth shelter system, that doesn't help any of the people who are over the age of 25 and looking for a shelter bed.”

Meantime, it had been suggested the region may be able to reword its property bylaw in order to remedy the constitutional breach. That may not be enough though, according to Down.

“The bylaw itself was not unconstitutional, it's the effect of the bylaw on the people living at the encampment and the proposed eviction that was unconstitutional,” she said, adding it's a decision cities across the province should be taking note of.

“The other thing that I'd like to see this decision do is advance the discussion beyond just providing shelter beds for people,” Down said. “We have a housing crisis; the reason we're dealing with this issue is because people can't find housing.”

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