In May 2021, the City of Prince George in northern British Columbia adopted a punitive stance against the presence of mostly street involved and unsheltered Indigenous people. This involved plans to enact a “safe streets” bylaw and a council resolution to apply for an injunction to close two homeless encampments. What followed was a fierce legal battle over the human rights of mostly Indigenous homeless people to use public space as a site of shelter. The report begins by summarizing the unique character of Prince George, a city destabilized by a housing and poisoned drug crisis—circumstances particularly harmful to Indigenous people. It then examines the legal contest that played out, paying particular attention to the clashing narratives of the City and encampment residents and the specific logics and qualities of the evidence the City advanced. The case study examines a central question that courts face in adjudicating the human rights of encampment residents: what is meant by “accessible shelter”? It concludes with some general observations about the character of human rights violations in Prince George.
This document was produced as part of a cross-Canada knowledge-sharing research project that was funded by the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate in order to improve public understanding of the reality of those living in encampments. Click here to read the full series.