Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Oct. 13, 2008)

Enabling the Poverty Pimps

By Bob Cooper



I’ve traveled a good portion of the world and always considered San Francisco one of its most beautiful cities.  Of all of its’ unique vistas and structures none is more elegant and striking than City Hall.  Situated on expansive grounds it boasted beautiful gardens, manicured lawns and was probably one of the most photographed buildings anywhere. 

Since being stationed there, I’ve spent a lot of time back in San Francisco both personally and in the course of various investigations.  Some years ago I drove by City Hall and was horrified to discover a tent city covering almost every inch of the grounds.  Ramshackle tents and plastic tarps were everywhere, the grounds were ruined and the only thing worse than the sight was the smell.  I recall being thankful that I now lived in a place with common sense where this just wouldn’t be allowed to happen.

Fast forward and enter the British Columbia Supreme Court in the form of Madame Justice Carol Ross who was hearing a challenge to a city by-law in Victoria which prohibits camping in city parks.  The man at the center of the challenge is David Arthur Johnston, 36.  According to the news media Johnston is homeless by choice, meaning that he is not camping there out of necessity.  He could just as easily avail himself of shelter and does not require either the courts or a tent to protect him from the elements.

Despite the moot nature of the challenge as it pertains to Mr. Johnston, the BC Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.  You’d think they’d have more pressing matters to attend to but this is the loony left coast.  At the end of the day, Madame Justice Ross ruled that the by-law infringes upon the Charter Rights of the homeless and struck it down.  This comes on the heels of another Supreme Court decision with respect to Insite which essentially held that drug addicts have a constitutional right to a safe place to shoot up.  What?

I don’t ever recall personally meeting Justice Ross but I’m sure she’s very well-meaning and dedicated to her duties.  It’s just that like so many judgments that come out of the courts in this province this one seems to have been made in the abstract with little, if any, regard for either the reality of the situation or the practical effect on society in general.

Let’s start with the reality of the situation.  When I worked in the Skid Road in the 1970s and early 1980s all of the drug addicts had housing of some sort.  They budgeted their money and took some responsibility for their choices.   So much for rent, so much for beer, so much for heroin, gun, knife, mask, stolen car, etc.  Then society coined the term “homeless” and made “homelessness” fashionable spawning a huge poverty industry with an equally huge sense of entitlement that continues to feed voraciously at the public trough.  

Like Mr. Johnston, a large proportion of ‘homeless’ in Vancouver are there either by choice or as the result of choices they’ve made.

As to the practical effect, Madame Justice Ross’ decision confers upon anyone the right to set up camp in any park in British Columbia and to use that park as a permanent abode, toilet, garbage dump, etc.  Now those of us with common sense know that it’s only going to occur in places like Oppenheimer Park, Victory Square, Cathedral Park, etc.  It’s less likely to happen in West side parks.  Like where the judges live.

But hold on a minute.  Why make them sleep in parks on cold rainy nights in the first place?  I suspect this is yet another example of judicial activism designed to prod the government into building more shelters or social housing.  If so, might I suggest a more practical and cost-effective solution.  Let them camp in that huge, unused space in the Atrium of the Courthouse.  Like parks, the courts are funded by tax dollars and should be accessible to everyone.  We could put dozens of them in cots on the main floor.   If it gets overcrowded just send the Sheriffs through with a stack of outstanding warrants.  That should free up a few beds.  If the court was sincere in its judgment I think it’s the least they can do.

Oh, and as for poor Mr. Johnston?  He was interviewed on Global News this evening and told the reporter that anyone who is concerned about this decision “can go f*** themselves, as far as I’m concerned”.  Thank you Mr. Johnston.

Ironically, the message the Supreme Court’s decision sends to society in general is not unlike that of Mr. Johnston.  The parks that all of your tax dollars have paid for are now the domain of Mr. Johnston and his ilk to occupy and do with as they choose.  Mr. Johnston’s message is just briefer and unambiguous.

The people of Victoria must be thankful they have a Mayor like Alan Lowe who is strongly urging City Council to authorize an appeal of this decision.  I rather doubt that our own good Mayor would even see the problem here.

Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2008