Open letter – Vancouver

Dear Mayor Sim,

I write to express my grave concerns about the plan reported in the media to escalate the decampment of East Hastings Street. The process does not conform to international human rights standards and I urge you and City Council to explore other alternatives while ensuring meaningful engagement with encampment residents. As you do so, I urge City Council to uphold inherent Indigenous rights as per the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

I want to draw your attention to the City’s obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of encampment residents. The National Housing Strategy Act (2019) recognized that housing is a fundamental human right and that housing is essential to the inherent dignity and well-being of the person. I want to underline that all Canadian municipalities have a responsibility to uphold the human rights of people living in encampments.

The Act also created the mandate of the Federal Housing Advocate which includes monitoring the right to adequate housing in Canada, and conducting reviews of systemic housing issues.

Last August, I sent a letter to your predecessor Mayor Stewart outlining my concern around reports of decampment activities on East Hastings Street that included a heavy police presence. After my visit to Vancouver at the end of August, I met with Mayor Stewart on September 16th to discuss the City’s human rights obligations to encampment residents as well as the challenges and successes the City was having in balancing its’ responsibilities for keeping people safe. I note that the approach outlined in the leaked documents of April 3rd is a departure from the prior policies of engagement with encampment residents and collaboration with peer-based community organizations.

On February 23nd, I launched a national review focused on homeless encampments. This review offers a framework for encampment residents, advocates and all orders of government to share their perspectives and work together to identify recommendations to ensure the promotion and protection of the human rights of people living in encampments. The review is based on the assumption that all levels of government have a role to play in finding solutions and mobilizing the needed resources. The review will also be an opportunity to promote the application of the human rights principles contained in A National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in CanadaFootnote 1.

I am concerned that the proposed approach outlined in Vancouver’s latest plan to escalate the decampment of East Hastings Street risks making the situation worse. I note that international human rights law clearly states that forced evictions of encampments, including forcing people to move from an encampment to a shelter, SRO, or “supportive” housing which is not adequate according to international human rights law, constitute a violation of human rights, including Indigenous rights as per UNDRIP. I am also concerned about the proposal to form “work zones” which would prevent residents from accessing services, and legal observers from witnessing any decampment activities taking place.

Following up on what I learned both during and subsequent to my visit to Vancouver in August 2022, I call on you and City Council to:

  1. Immediately cease the forced eviction of encampment residents;
  2. Adopt a human rights-based approach to dealing with encampments, guided by the former UN Special Rapporteur’s National Protocol;
  3. Undertake a meaningful process of engagement with the encampment residents, community organizations and stakeholders before adopting any decisions that affect them;
  4. Provide encampment residents with access to basic services such as clean water, sanitation facilities, electricity and heat; and
  5. Cease reliance on law enforcement as the primary response to encampments.

I recognize that homeless encampments pose many complex challenges for municipalities. Solutions require the federal and provincial governments to work with and provide resources to municipalities so that housing is affordable, accessible and appropriate for everyone. Adopting a human rights-based approach provides the best road map for finding sustainable solutions while upholding the human dignity of people experiencing homelessness. In the meantime, I encourage you, members of Council and the City employees, to review the National Protocol and apply its principles in your dealings with homeless encampments.

I would welcome an opportunity to engage in further dialogue and explore how my office and the ongoing review can contribute to the City of Vancouver implementing a human rights-based approach to encampments.

Yours sincerely,

Marie-Josée Houle
Federal Housing Advocate

c.c.: Rebecca Bligh, City Councillor
Christine Boyle, City Councillor
Adriane Carr, City Councillor
Lisa Dominato, City Councillor
Pete Fry, City Councillor
Sarah Kirby-Yung, City Councillor
Mike Klassen, City Councillor
Peter Meiszner, City Councillor
Brian Montague, City Councillor
Lenny Zhou, City Councillor
Paul Mochrie, City Manager
Hon. David Eby, Premier Province of BC
Hon. Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Housing Province of BC

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