BY BILL PHILLIPS
The Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society is urging Prince George city council to reconsider a proposed bylaw enabling it to fine owners of ‘nuisance’ properties.
The Pivot Legal Society, a human rights organization that works with marginalized populations to challenge laws and policies that perpetuate poverty and social exclusion, says the bylaw will have a detrimental affect on marginalized people in the community who, it says, will feel the brunt of angry landlords getting fined by the city.
“The bylaw, which will likely have a chilling effect on calls for emergency assistance, is not only morally reprehensible; it is also Constitutionally suspect,” said D.J. Larkin, legal director for the society in a letter to city council. “Its potential to adversely affect the health and safety of vulnerable populations has not adequately been considered, and we therefore strongly urge you to abandon its enactment. Contrary to the statement of Counsellor Brian Skakun, the bylaw will not have the effect of getting ‘people to clean up their act.’ Instead, it will discourage people in dire situations from calling for police, fire, and paramedic assistance.”
Council gave first three readings to the bylaw which, if passed, prohibits the use of land by an owner or occupier in a manner that creates a nuisance; requires the owner or occupier of land to abate any nuisance that they create or allow to occur on the property that they own or occupy; provides city council with the authority to order the owner or occupier of premises to abate a nuisance on or emanating from the premises; authorizes the city through its employees, the RCMP or contractors to enter onto property and to abate a nuisance at the cost of the owner/occupier, where an owner/occupier fails to abate the nuisance (once having been ordered to do so by city council); sets out a schedule of the hourly fees/rates that would be used to determine the cost of abatement that the owner/occupier is responsible for; and provides that the city may, amongst other things, recover the cost of abating a nuisance in the same manner as property taxes.
Larkin pointed to the current opioid crisis in the country and said that those who use drugs and overdose are often repeat users of the emergency response system, as are women in abusic relationships and they will end up getting targeted by the new bylaw.
“The bylaw’s negative effects will disproportionately impact marginalized and vulnerable populations, including people who use drugs, people experiencing mental health issues, and victims of family violence or harassment. It cannot be justified under any circumstance,” Larkin wrote.
He added the bylaw may also jeopardize vulnerable tenants, possibly leading to an increase in homelessness in the city.
“Landlords who bear the financial costs of a tenant’s emergency calls may choose to evict a tenant on the basis of causing a ‘nuisance,’” Larkin said. “Landlords might also deny tenancies to tenants perceived to be at risk of calling 911, including people who use drugs, people living with mental health issues, and women experiencing violence from partners or ex-partners. In this sense, the bylaw may well encourage landlords to engage in discriminatory practices contrary to B.C.’s Human Rights Code.”