Edmonton Journal

City looks to recoup $25K from advocacy group

Coalition should cover some legal costs in court battle over camp sweeps: lawyer


Lawyers for the City of Edmonton were in court Thursday asking an advocacy group for $25,000, partially as a deterrent, to cover some of the money the municipali­ty spent defending the way it removes homeless encampment­s.

Court of Kings Bench Justice Jonathan Martin has yet to make a decision.

The city is hoping to recoup close to 60 per cent of its $42,626 in legal bills after an Alberta court dismissed a lawsuit from the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights. In January, Martin denied the not-for-profit public interest standing, finding it was not the right group to represent homeless people. He dismissed the case without deciding whether Edmonton's policy violates the constituti­onal rights of unhoused people as the advocacy group argued.

City lawyer Cameron Ashmore told the court on Thursday the coalition should cover some costs, partially to prevent this kind of legal action.

“This cost itself is intended to be a little bit of a deterrent,” he said. “If we requested the entire amount, it probably wouldn't be fair. We are trying to find the line.”

He said the city is willing to cover some of the costs knowing it has more resources to do so, but the municipali­ty's funding is limited. The city wanted to deal with the issue of standing first before going further, which increased costs. Ashmore said the coalition also created a “moving target” by changing elements of the lawsuit as they went along.

Martin said the city, too, changed tack by amending its encampment policies throughout the litigation, to which Ashmore conceded.

Avnish Nanda, co-counsel for the coalition, told the court the fact the city sees this as a deterrent is “concerning” because the city knows its policy could be unconstitu­tional, and the not-for-profit was standing up for “likely the most vulnerable sector of our society” who can't go to court themselves.

“Notwithsta­nding that this litigation has been dismissed, that factor, that admission by the city still stands, that that policy that exists today may be breaching the Charter rights of unhoused Edmontonia­ns,” Nanda said. “I think it was quite clear that the coalition acted in a manner to protect the life, liberty and security of the person (of unhoused people).”

Ashmore clarified the city's position is that it is “arguable” that Edmonton's policy may be unconstitu­tional.

Nanda said the coalition's injunction applicatio­n directly impacted how the city approaches homeless camps.

“From our perspectiv­e, our efforts directly led to the changes that made for a better encampment clearing policy,” Nanda said.

“We do think our injunction applicatio­n had a positive effect on how the city approached encampment­s.”

Ashmore said whether the lawsuit is what led the city to change its approach is not in evidence.

The city changed its policy for encampment­s in late December to add mandatory notice before teardowns and to ensure there is enough room in shelters for displaced people. These were two conditions the coalition asked for when an Alberta court gave the group an interim injunction that put rules around how eight large campsites could be removed.

The approach changed again in January when the Edmonton Police Service announced it would escalate camp teardowns as the provincial government opened a new reception centre one day after the lawsuit was thrown out.

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Avnish Nanda

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