B.C. pauses new shelter legislation after pushback from local governments

Nicholas Pescod
Tents are pictured in Victoria in this file photo.

B.C. Premier David Eby is agreeing to pause the implementation of new legislation that his government thought would make it easier for municipalities to clear homeless encampments.

But local governments say it could actually make the problem worse.

The legislation was supposed to define what an adequate shelter space is – a place with a hot meal, bed, shower and a staff person – so municipalities could more easily get a court injunction to clear tent encampments from parks or public land.

But on Thursday, the Union of B.C. Municipalities said its legal advice is that the legislation makes it virtually impossible for cities to get court injunctions.

The UBCM says the problem is municipalities rely entirely on the province, through BC Housing, to have enough spaces that meet the new shelter definition, or they will be effectively powerless to stop the encampments if there are no alternative places to send unhoused people.

“It is the province’s job to provide shelter beds, and the reality is right now there aren’t enough beds in any municipality, so the legislation is going to make it more difficult for local governments to enforce the bylaws for overnight sheltering, and most likely the outcome will be more encampments,” said Trish Mandewo, UBCM president.

There’s only three days left in the fall legislative session. The UBCM wants the government to pull the bill, but Eby says he’s going to pass it.

However, the premier says the province would put in a clause that the legislation doesn’t come into force until his cabinet sorts things out with local governments.

“Our goal with this is to create more certainty,” said B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon.

“Right now, every time a court makes a decision there is more uncertainty being created on how local governments can work with encampments. So that was our goal here, but we’re going to continue to engage with them,” he said.

The B.C. NDP government doesn’t want individual judges deciding injunction by injunction what a shelter space is, and if there’s enough beds available, so it’s pushing this legislation.

But municipalities say if they had been consulted before the legislation was tabled, this outcome would have been better.

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-With files from CHEK’s Rob Shaw

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