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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Drug Users & Homeless Seek Equal Rights

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users sued the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, a business group and the city, demanding an end to discrimination against homeless people, under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, known as VANDU, sued the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, and the City of Vancouver, in B.C. Supreme Court.

VANDU claims that discrimination against homeless people should be included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as homeless people in Vancouver are disproportionately aboriginal, disabled or drug addicted.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is Canada's equivalent of the U.S. Bill of Rights. It is the first part of the national Constitution Act of 1982. It prohibits discrimination based on race or disability.

VANDU sued after the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal dismissed its complaint against the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association's "Ambassadors Program."

Downtown Ambassadors employed by the association are essentially security guards tasked with removing so-called undesirables from public spaces such as parks and storefronts.

VANDU claimed in its original complaint that the security guards unlawfully targeted homeless people, mostly aboriginal people and people suffering from mental disabilities, including drug addiction, and denied them access to public spaces.

While the tribunal found that the Ambassadors Program had an "adverse discriminatory effect on homeless persons as a class," it stopped short of finding that the discrimination was based on race, ancestry or disability, all prohibited grounds for discrimination under the charter and human rights statutes.

"However, the Tribunal concluded there was insufficient evidence to infer that discriminatory treatment of homeless persons amounted to discrimination on the basis of race, ancestry or disability," VANDU says in its new complaint. "While the Tribunal found that the homeless population targeted by the Program included a disproportionate number of individuals who suffer from mental disabilities or ethnic groups that had a history of being marginalized, it did not find that these individuals were specifically targeted by the Program for their membership in these groups."

VANDU is represented by Jason B. Gratl.

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