ABBOTSFORD, B.C. - Six homeless people have filed a human rights complaint against the Fraser Valley City of Abbotsford, alleging they faced discrimination when city officials sprayed chicken manure on one encampment and police officers slashed and pepper sprayed tents at another.
The two separate incidents happened earlier this year, and lawyer DJ Larkin, with the advocacy group Pivot Legal Society, alleges the tactics were used to uproot the camps' residents.
"These actions are targeted at people who are street homeless ... with the purpose of displacement to move them out of the city, or to move them along somewhere from whatever location they're currently camped at without giving them any other options where to go," she said in a phone interview on Tuesday.
"It also has a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities — and that includes physical and mental disabilities as well as addictions — who are grossly overrepresented in the population of the people who are street homeless in Abbotsford, as well as people who are aboriginal."
Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman apologized in July after officials spread chicken manure over a homeless campsite near a Salvation Army.
Several people also filed lawsuits against the city, claiming compensation for damaged property after their tents and personal belongings were damaged by police at another homeless camp site.
Larkin said the city has done little to assist those who were subject to the chicken manure and tent slashing incidents. While several suggestions to house the homeless have been put forward to the city, it has not acted on any of them, she said.
Barry Shantz with the advocacy group BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors said the two incidents have been traumatic for the homeless people who not only struggle with mental health issues and addiction, but who were "pestered, tormented and pushed around."
"Weak people, or those who don't have the mental capacity to resist the oppression, tend to submit to more of the same, and those men remain at the chicken (manure) site," he said. "Those men remain at the chicken (manure) site today as beaten, trodden, individuals. They are shells of human beings who are just treated so poorly."
A group of about 20 people have been living in the city's Jubilee Park for two months, but the City of Abbotsford issued a 48 hours-notice Monday, ordering the camp to be dismantled by Wednesday because of safety concerns.
“After reviewing numerous documented occurrences of fire safety violations including the use of propane barbecues within the tents as heat sources, criminal activity, drug use, and the additional concerns raised by the recent arrival of sub-zero temperatures, council felt it was imperative we act now before someone gets hurt,” the mayor said in a written news release on Monday.
“The last thing we want is to have a tragedy like what happened in Vancouver two years ago during the Occupy Vancouver protest where a young woman died," Banman added.
He said the city's lawyers would apply for an injunction if the tents are not removed by Wednesday.
The human rights complaint against the city was filed last Thursday, but Larkin said the six complainants — all of whom have lived on the streets for at least three years and claim disability — decided to publicize the complaint now because four of them currently live at Jubilee Park and are in danger of being removed.
"By simply dispersing people, it actually makes it more dangerous for them," Larkin said.
"If someone has a candle in their tent because that's their only source of heat, that's something they've been doing for years. If they're off on their own in the woods and no one is there to help them if something goes wrong, that's considerably more dangerous than being in a place that is organized and well-run where there are people to help when something does go wrong."
Larkin said the BC Human Rights Tribunal has not yet accepted the complaint. A media conference about it is expected to take place in Abbotsford on Wednesday morning.
Banman was not available for comment.
-- By Vivian Luk in Vancouver
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