Pivot Legal Society has waded into the legal battle between the City of Courtenay and the owners of Maple Pool Campsite.
The City initiated legal action in 2011 against Dali and Jin Lin, seeking to shut down the campground that houses 54 low-income tenants. City CAO Sandy Gray says the issue is zoning, which does not allow the couple to house people on the property, which sits on a floodplain. The site flooded in 2009 and 2010.
Advocates fear most tenants would become homeless if evicted.
“We are interested because we want to raise the issue of what the impact of this decision by the City to close this campground would mean to the people who live here,” Pivot lawyer Scott Bernstein said at a Thursday press conference at Maple Pool.
The mandate of the Vancouver-based, non-profit society is to use the law to create social change. Pivot will apply to the court to consider whether evicting Maple Pool tenants violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Bernstein noted a parallel case in Victoria where homeless people camped in a park. The City there wanted to shut down the shelters by enforcing bylaws, which were found to breach the Charter.
For decades, Maple Pool has provided housing for homeless and marginalized individuals.
“It’s become abundantly clear in recent weeks that the overwhelming majority of this community is adamantly opposed to the lawsuit that the City is pursuing,” said Clive Ansley, legal counsel for the Lins.
He considers the lawsuit as being “perverse” and “wrong-headed, ill-advised and mean-spirited” in nature.
Ansley also feels City council is reluctant to move forward.
“I don’t think there are many people on council who feel good about it. But what we’re dealing with here is a kind of disease that I think is endemic in municipal government across the country. That’s what I call the tail wagging the dog,” said Ansley, noting “career administrators” run the city year after year while elected councillors come and go.
“They find themselves heavily dependent on administration. I think the problem with this lawsuit is that it is being driven by one man in city hall, and that one man has never been elected.”
Ansley said the City annexed the Maple Pool area in 2002. Until 2010, he said the City treated the site as “legally non-conforming,” which essentially means grandfathering.
“The Local Government Act gives sweeping powers to municipalities. If this goes to court, we anticipate that we will be successful in our argument that the property was legally non-conforming. But if the City should prevail, then the City will be facing a million-dollar lawsuit,” Ansley said.
“My clients have acted on the basis of the statements from the City, and they’ve acted to their detriment, and they’re going to suffer huge losses. They’re going to be looking to the City of Courtenay to compensate them for those losses.”
He said a solution to the rezoning issue is to continue recognizing the non-conforming status of the campground. Ansley also said the Lins are prepared to present City council with an engineering plan to raise a portion of the land. He also notes volunteers who would perform the work and supply materials.
“It really would be a very easy solution,” Ansley said.
Gray said there is no non-conforming use at Maple Pool. Furthermore, the city has waited more than a year for the Lins to forward a proposal.
“They have not brought anything in, and now they’re wanting to negotiate through the media,” he said. “The appropriate way is to come through the front door.
“It’s a huge challenge from an engineering point of view, I would think,” Gray added. “The City has not received anything of a substantive nature that in any way would look like an application.”
A hearing is expected to occur next month.