City of Penticton taking B.C. to court over homeless shelter; provincial Minister for Housing David Eby unhappy

Eby fires back at Penticton

UPDATE: 5:35 p.m.

Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby, named by the City of Penticton in a legal petition filed Wednesday over a local homeless shelter, has provided a statement in response:

"While I’m unable to comment on specific matters that are before the court, I’m disappointed to hear that Penticton city council is pursuing legal action against BC Housing and the charity that provides services to homeless people in Penticton.

It appears that the best case scenario from Penticton’s perspective is that they spend $300,000 and increase the city’s street homeless population by 42 people.

We will continue to work with Penticton city staff to respond to that city’s ongoing homelessness crisis, despite this lawsuit.

Our position has been, and will continue to be, that bringing people experiencing homelessness indoors is far better than putting them on out on the streets, without the supports and services they need.”

ORGINAL: 4:10 p.m.

The City of Penticton has made good on its threat to pursue legal action against the province over the Victory Church temporary homeless shelter, ready to spend up to $300,000 in legal fees to see the facility closed in accordance with local bylaws.

On Wednesday, the city filed a petition in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, naming BC Housing, Attorney General and Housing Minister David Eby, Provincial Rental Housing Corporation, Pentictonia Holdings Ltd., which owns the shelter land, and the Penticton and District Society for Community Living.

The petition seeks a declaration accepting the validity of the local zoning bylaw at 352 Winnipeg Street, which would effectively force Victory Church shelter to close, as well as costs.

The city's fight over the shelter began in March, when city council denied a temporary use permit extension that would have legalized its operation through the end of 2021.

Originally, the shelter, operated by PDSCL under BC Housing's authority, was only set to operate through the winter of 2020/21.

A request to extend that, citing clear demand for the always-full, 40-plus bed facility, and worries that without it, a tent city may form in a local park, was not well received by many councillors. They cited problems with other local BC Housing facilities, and increased incidents of petty crime and vagrancy in the Winnipeg Street area.

BC Housing Minister David Eby waded into the fray shortly thereafter, invoking paramountcy laws to keep the facility operating.

Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki accused Eby of "bullying" the municipality, and soon the city sent out a public survey to gauge interest in launching a potentially $300,000 legal battle with the provincial government to force the shelter to close in accordance with local bylaws.

The results showed 64 per cent of respondents who sought out the survey either agreed or strongly agreed with the legal challenge, and council voted to approve the potential action.

On Wednesday, that potential came to reality, when the city's legal counsel Hunter Litigation Chambers filed the petition in Vancouver.

The crux of the argument centres around a section of the Interpretation Act, 14(2), which states that "an enactment," which includes a municipal zoning bylaw, "does not bind or affect the government ... in the use or development of land."

"The BC government, through its agent [BC Housing], has taken the position that [this section] entitles it to override the decision-making of a local government's duly-elected council, with respect to a private organization's use of land that is privately owned," the petition reads.

"To vindicate BC Housing's position would be to bestow upon the BC government far greater power over local governments than [this section] is intended or interpreted to confer."

An affidavit from city director of development services Blake Laven is also included.

"The city does not oppose the provision of shelter services to the individuals currently attending [352 Winnipeg Street,]" Laven said.

"Its policy disagreement with the government of British Columbia relates only to the site and facilities at which those services will be provided."

He added that the goal is not an "immediate closure" of the shelter; rather, an eventual end through "orderly decampment."

As litigation is pending, no city officials will be providing further comment on the matter, although Mayor Vassilaki provided a statement in a press release Wednesday.

"Council has listened and by way of polls, petitions and letters, thousands of residents have told us that 352 Winnipeg Street is no place for a shelter, and we agree. That is why council denied renewing the permit and why we continue to oppose the facility, at this location. We hope BC Housing will do the right thing and close the shelter, adhere to the city’s bylaws and avoid the necessity of going to court," Vassilaki wrote.

BC Housing tells Castanet they are preparing a comment, and this story will be updated when that is provided. PDSCL executive director Tony Laing said his organization has no comment at this time, as they have not yet been served with papers.

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