Maple Ridge wins partial court injunction against Anita Place Tent City, but the camp remains in place and residents can keep their cabins

On Friday February 8th, BC Supreme Court Justice Grauer released his judgement on the City of Maple Ridge’s application for an injunction against the nearly two-year old Anita Place Tent City. Justice Grauer granted the City of Maple Ridge most of what it asked for: enforcement power for two fire orders that includes a War Measures Act-style police power of indefinite detention, and a “verification order” that forces residents of Anita Place to register with City officials.

Under this injunction order, the camp will stay in place, including, significantly, the cabins a dozen or so residents have so-far managed to build. What Justice Grauer’s injunction continues from last year’s Court orders to break up tent cities in Nanaimo and Saanich is a turn away from earlier trends of Courts applying legal pressure to governments to provide housing and services to the homeless.

The lawyers for Anita Place, with Pivot Legal Society, argued against the fire enforcement order by saying that it was not practicable. Rather than an approach to fire safety that takes away homeless peoples’ only source of heat, pushing them to improvise even more dangerous forms of heat, Pivot argued for a “harm reduction” approach to fire safety. They called for Justice Grauer to grant the City the power to seize propane heaters only after installing an electrical grid that can provide safer electric heat. Grauer refused to consider this option, saying he would not ask the government to provide for homeless people.

The “verification order” came as a surprise to camp supporters. The Province, which was also involved in the hearing, did not support the City’s request for the power to create a list of “authorized” campers. This should have weakened the case for registering campers because the ostensible logic for the verification order was that campers should be registered in order to apply for housing, and it is the Province’s BC Housing – not the City – that administers housing waiting lists. The City could use the verification order to stop additional homeless people from finding shelter in the camp.

A premise of liberal democratic states is that individuals owe a debt of obedience to the state, and the state owes the benefit and protections of rights to individuals. Such a reciprocal relationship is rare in practice, and in Canada is usually only experienced by property and business owning white men. Grauer’s message is that governments do not “owe” anything to homeless people, but that homeless people still owe obedience and submission to the governments and the society that has turned its back on them. It is rare that this social contract is so brazenly broken in a Supreme Court decision.

Anita Place tent city residents have decided to launch an appeal against the entire injunction order in the BC Court of Appeal. This appeal will be part of deciding how the injunction order will be enforced in practice and whether the order – and its discriminatory logic – will stand.

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