Homeless bylaw called legal whipping of vulnerable

48 people have sent a letter of protest to the City of Kelowna

The City of Kelowna's new bylaw on sitting or sleeping on sidewalks has raised the ire of some community supporters.

Kelowna’s decision to extend its existing daytime ban on sitting and sleeping on city sidewalks has prompted 48 people, including two former city councillors and several UBC Okanagan professors, to sign a letter of protest.

The letter, to Mayor Colin Basran and his council, calls the plan to extend the ban to 24 hours per day from the current 8 a.m.to 9 p.m., a “legal whipping” of the city’s homeless.

“The city’s homeless require mercy and assistance, support programs and opportunities – not a legal whipping,” says the letter. “We the undersigned demand that you desist from imposing this cruel and legally perilous 24-hour ban on sitting and sleeping in public.”

The signatories are also demanding the city rescind the existing 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. ban.

“We the undersigned are concerned about the well-being of the city’s poor who are without safe and clean year-round housing, many of whom are turned out from Inn from the Cold (shelter) between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily because that seasonal emergency shelter does not have enough funding to remain open 24 hours a day,” says the letter.

“We question why the city contemplates  turning over to law enforcement the non-criminal files they would create in the case of bylaw infraction if a homeless person is thought to be involved in criminal activity.”

The letter is signed by a list of local educators, social activists and former local politicians including Angela Nagy and Michele Rule, both of whom are former city councillors. Others signatories give themselves titles such as “protector of constitutional rights,” “protector of all living things,” “global citizen,” and  “upholder of constitutional rights.

The letter also says the Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society, which has worked for the rights of the homeless in Vancouver in recent years, is also interested in what is happening here and is investigating  bylaws like the one in Kelowna across the province of B.C. Results of that investigation, however, will not be available until early 2018, says the letter.

Pivot believe the proposed Kelowna bylaw is a “serious step backwards in human rights,” and is not an appropriate tactic to take in the face of a national housing crisis and mounting poverty across B.C. – even in conjunction with positive initiatives or strategies the city has undertaken or may undertake such as Housing First.,” according to the signatories.

“Pivot has serious concerns regarding the constitutionality of the law proposed by the City of Kelowna and believes it is open to legal challenge,” says the letter.

Kelowna’s mayor has defended the extended ban, saying it is a response to public complaints about sidewalks being blocked from both individuals and local businesses.

He said earlier this week, bylaw officers will not be “out 24/7 looking for people to ticket.”

And he has said enforcement is just one of several strategies being used to address homelessness and people on the street.

City bylaw services manager Greg Wise,who proposed the extension of the ban to council, was not immediately available to comment about the letter or to confirm if the city had sought legal advice prior to council giving the extension bylaw first three reading earlier this week.