B.C. Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN) Regional Chief Terry Teegee said he’s pleased the City of Prince George is “moving in a more positive direction” by withdrawing its appeal to seek closure of a homeless encampment called “Moccasin Flats” on Lower Patricia Boulevard in the downtown area on Thursday (March 24).
The decision to drop the case came after B.C. Supreme Court Judge Simon Coval denied the city’s application for an interim injunction to allow the removal of the encampment on Feb. 23.
It was the city’s second attempt after losing an initial court case in October 2021 that also sought to take down the camp.
Coval found that the city “inflicted serious harm on vulnerable people” last fall by dismantling part of the camp — including people’s shelters and personal belongings.
In a written statement issued on Thursday the city said it is now reevaluating its approach and response to homelessness and homeless encampments. “The City of Prince George sincerely apologizes to all those who experienced trauma from our actions.”
Teegee said he’s glad for the apology and called for the city to work with First Nations toward “humane, evidence-based approaches” that would better help residents amid an “ongoing life-threatening crises” of poverty, homelessness and illicit-drug poisoning.
The city said it concluded that pursuing an appeal was unlikely to achieve closure of the encampment or address concerns relating to encampments. The city said it acted “in good faith” throughout the process and in partnership with BC Housing.
The city said its intent has been to “advance and protect the interests, health and safety” of all residents – including “encampment occupants, downtown business operators,” and residents of the nearby Millar Addition subdivision.
Despite its “best intentions” and the support of the province and BC Housing the city said this remains a “complex and difficult” issue to address. The city said it will “continue to work with agencies who have expertise and resources in this area” to address the needs of vulnerable citizens.
Darlene Kavka, co-legal counsel for the defence noted the Attorney General of B.C., B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Pivot Legal Society and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, had all been granted intervenor status in the case.
“This was about to become a high-profile case.”
The case would have been a special sitting of the Court of Appeal held Prince George.
Co-legal counsel Melanie Begalka also expressed disappointment that the Court of Appeal will not have the opportunity to weigh in on the legal issues. But she said the defence is “encouraged” the city is going to be taking a different approach “that hopefully respects the rights, humanity and dignity of people sheltering outside.”
Going forward Teegee said the city needs to engage with organizations and individuals who are “knowledgeable in the cultures and lived experiences” of Prince George residents who are struggling on the streets.
Earlier this week the BCAFN released two reports criticizing the city’s “Safe Streets Bylaw” that critics say targets vulnerable residents by restricting activities like sitting or lying down in public spaces.
Teegee said a more informed approach would ensure “long-term and effective” solutions to homelessness that would benefit the whole community.
“Resources must be used more humanely if we are to see improved positive changes in Prince George. I hope to see less discriminatory bylaw enforcement, harassment strategies, harmful policies from the city, bylaw officers and RCMP,” Teegee said.
“Let’s forge a path of reconciliation together.”
In accepting Judge Coval’s decision the city said it believed the shelters that were taken down last fall to be abandoned.
The city wrote that it now “understands what additional steps could have been taken to ensure those shelters had been permanently abandoned, and what additional evidence could have been brought to Court to show this to be the case.”
The city said while the appeal is withdrawn it will not comment further as pending legal issues remain.