Will our courts uphold rights of homeless? | Bruce Baker

By Bruce Baker

Law360 Canada (August 10, 2023, 8:56 AM EDT) --
Bruce Baker
Bruce Baker
A growing homeless population and government action has led to a situation where courts and the judiciary have been forced to weigh in on the ever-growing encampments that populate our major urban centres.

At first the task was easy; just grant a court order signed by the judge and let law enforcement deal with the rest. The politicians at all levels who continue to resist dealing with the encampments would simply not have any accountability as this was a decision by the courts. Today poverty and homelessness have reached the point where something must be done immediately, or the social chaos and disorder created by an inability to function within the economic system takes total hold.

Rebel Media had done several stories about the Allan Gardens encampments, referring to rampant crime and substance abuse. I was fortunate to have a colleague in Toronto walk the encampment in Allan Gardens looking for signs of this. Not surprisingly what she found is just like the encampments here in Edmonton, a community of people trying to police and take care of one another. Are there drugs? Sure, but as in Edmonton these communities are doing their utmost to keep the grounds free of needles, etc. It might also be noted that drug abuse is just not a problem within these communities, and from personal experience I know it’s a way to mask the pain of hunger, mental illness and disenfranchisement.

The age-old arguments no longer hold value to most and now with the refugee shelter crisis adding to a system bursting at the seams the media has awoken. Today they are finally asking the pertinent questions that should have been asked more than two decades ago.

The politicians still seem slow to pick up on the notion that this is a problem that is here and now and is not going to go away. Justin Trudeau who gleefully used the incoming Syrian refugees for photo opportunities at every turn declared housing was not his responsibility. This of course is totally untrue, and the truth is known is that poverty and social devastation is a responsibility of everyone, and all levels of government. Pierre Poilievre is still talking in circles attacking the government at every opportunity yet offering no concrete solutions, and Jagmeet Singh seems totally quiet on the issue scared to draw a line in the sand.

This once again takes us back to the courts and how they intend to rule on these evictions in the future.

In this country we have the right to live in peace and dignity. Our courts must look with a set of fresh eyes on these encampment communities for the unfortunate necessities they are. I am waiting for the day that the courts take the rights of these citizens whose only real crime is that of being poor and disenfranchised to heart.

When they recognize the fundamental right to shelter and grant injunctions against the cities to tear the encampments down, that is when real political and social change will occur. Our courts since the repatriation of the Constitution, and the construction of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms have championed the ideals and rights of oppressed and marginalized Canadians, and these people are no different.

If it must be our courts to tell government to build a better Canada for everyone then I think this is something we all can celebrate.

Bruce Baker is a veteran and freelance journalist who penned regular columns on political and legal matters for The Globe and Mail and Macleans and former researcher/writer for Allan Blakeney when he was premier of Saskatchewan. You can reach him at brucebak@telusplanet.net.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, Law360 Canada, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

Interested in writing for us? To learn more about how you can add your voice to Law360 Canada, contact Analysis Editor Peter Carter at peter.carter@lexisnexis.ca or call 647-776-6740.