The BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN) has released two reports slamming the City of Prince George’s safe streets bylaw.
The bylaw, enacted last year, “is a means to address overtly anti-social behaviour in public, including aggressive panhandling, littering, sidewalk obstruction, graffiti, open drug use, needle disposal, as well as the creation of structures, temporary shelters, and campfires,” according to a city news release. It also allows bylaw officer to issue $100 tickets for infractions.
The BCAFN opposed the bylaw when it was enacted and now says its two report affirms its contention that the bylaw is making matters streets worse rather than better.
“It paints a troubling picture of continuing targeting and harassment of people who have little and no place to go,” Regional Chief Terry Teegee said of the two reports at news conference Monday.
Experiences With Bylaw in Prince George comprises exploratory qualitative research documenting the experiences of homeless people under the Safe Streets Bylaw. Move On: The First Ninety-Nine Days of the City of Prince George Safe Streets Bylaw outlines an analysis carried out by Dr. Joe Hermer, chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Dr. Hermer carried out a preliminary examination of 427 ‘workflow’ files or bylaw enforcement events identified by city staff as resulting from the new bylaw.
Both reports detail results with regard to how the bylaw is enforced, indicating that the prevalent use of informal tactics, such as verbal exchanges rather than formal tickets, which, according to Hermer, fosters a systemic lack of accountability and transparency.
“When responding to complaints bylaw enforcement almost without exception move people on,” said Hermer. “Bylaw officers almost never made any attempt to connect people they were moving on to any type of social services, any type of assistance or any type of way they could access services or gain assistance.”
That directly contrasts with the city’s assertion that people moved from the homeless camps have been moved to housing units in the city. Teegee confirmed that is the case, but stressed the type of housing is often not adequate.
“The housing out there doesn’t allow for others to access that housing,” said Teegee. “Quite simply there are barriers. Some of the housing that BC Housing supplies there are higher barriers. What we need here to capture all of the homeless is low barrier or no barrier housing.”
Hermer added his report, which is specific to how bylaw officers act on the street, found “no evidence, whatsoever, that anyone who was moved on by a bylaw officer received any assistance in terms of housing … it speaks to the crude, reactionary application of this bylaw.”
In October, the city hired two outreach coordinators who are responsible for connecting the homeless with health and social services, including safe and supported housing. “The staff will work closely with bylaw services officers and representatives from other service providers associated with the city’s Community Safety Hub,” according to a city news release issued at the time.
Teegee said their reports identifies five key issues:
- The Safe Streets Bylaw jeopardizes the safety of Prince George citizens.
Bylaw enforcement is discriminatory; women and people who ‘look’ low-income are at
greater risk of harassment.
- The Bylaw is creating financial burden on individuals, the City of Prince George (CPG), and the Province of BC.
- The city has not provided adequate bylaw education, making citizens vulnerable to “beyond bylaw” mistreatment.
- Bylaw funding could be allocated more effectively to make Prince George safer, cleaner, and more inclusive.
These reports arrive at the heel of the the Supreme Court of British Columbia denying the city’s second injunction application to dismantle an encampment. In addition, the city was found in breach of the October 2021 Stewart Order when city staff dismantled several encampment residents’ shelters and possessions.
The BC Assembly of First Nations maintains an urgent call for governments to support First Nations to address homelessness amongst both on and off-reserve with evidence-based and trauma-informed approaches. Furthermore, the BCAFN urges the City of Prince George to work in good faith with First Nations, service providers, and other key community partners to secure adequate housing for the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society.