This week, West Coast LEAF, in coalition with the Community Legal Assistance Society, intervened in a case that will determine how difficult it will be for a marginalized group – in this case, homeless people – to address discrimination against them.
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) v. Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA) started as a human rights complaint against the DVBIA for their treatment of people who are homeless in the downtown core of Vancouver. In particular, the case concerned “removals” of this population from sidewalks and city parks by Downtown Ambassadors, private security guards employed by the DVBIA.
VANDU and Pivot Legal Society (the Complainants) argued at the BC Human Rights Tribunal that such “removals” were a violation of theHuman Rights Code because the DVBIA’s program specifically targeted people who are or appear to be homeless, a population that is disproportionately comprised of people with disabilities and people of Aboriginal ancestry. They pointed out that everyone has an equal right to access public spaces. Discrimination on the basis of race, ancestry or disability (including addiction) is prohibited by BC’s Human Rights Code.
The Tribunal found that the Complainants failed to show that the DVBIA’s actions disproportionately impact people of Aboriginal ancestry and people living with disabilities. Human rights law in BC only prohibits discrimination on the basis of things like race and disability, so the claim failed. Unfortunately, BC has not taken the step of amending its human rights legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of poverty or homelessness, meaning that it is not unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis that they are poor. VANDU took their case to the BC Supreme Court.
Our Coalition argued that the Tribunal decision wrongly increases the burden of proof required of people who claim that they are being discriminated against, making it harder to win these kinds of cases. We argued that this is an unfair disadvantage for already marginalized people.
We do not know when the Court will make its decision, but we hope that it will pave the way for greater enforcement of human rights – and make sure that the rights that everyone has on paper are realized for the most vulnerable among us.