‘How’ land is used, not for ‘who’: B.C. lawyers’ group wants ‘social condition’ as a human right

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WATCH: Residents of Vancouver’s Marpole neighbourhood say they’re not opposed to a modular housing project, just its current location. Tanya Beja reports – Nov 6, 2017

Amid the heated conversation debate around temporary modular housing in residential neighbourhoods, a group of B.C. lawyers is pushing to have “social condition” protected under the province’s human rights code.

READ MORE: Marpole protesters block temporary homeless housing, and the city’s not having it

Tempers have flared in areas such as Vancouver’s Marpole neighbourhood, where residents have said they don’t oppose housing for the homeless, but that it is inappropriate in their area.

Vancouver’s Pivot Legal Society says that’s discrimination, and wants it stopped.

LISTEN: Is it time to add “social condition” to B.C.’s human rights code?
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Speaking on CKNW’s Steele & Drex show, Pivot laywer Darcie Bennett said the issue is an attempt to exclude people based on factors they can’t necessarily control.

“Everything from source of income, housing status, education level, that sort of confluence of factors,” she said.
WATCH: Vancouver condo criticized for ‘Poor doors’ and ‘poor playgrounds’
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Proposed Vancouver condo creates division – Nov 27, 2017

The conversation around contentious topics, like zoning for social housing, has shifted away from things cities should control, such as land use, traffic issues, building setbacks, Bennett said.

“We are treading into the question of who is going to use this space, versus how is this space going to be used?”

READ MORE: ‘Poor doors’ and ‘poor playgrounds’: Vancouver development criticized for divisions between condos, social housing

With B.C. re-establishing its Human Rights Commission, which has a mandate to act proactively and address issues without having to bring a unique case to a tribunal, Bennett said the time is right to make “social condition” a protected status.

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Bennett said B.C. should look to Ontario, which has begun taking steps to bar zoning decisions made around matters such as mental health.

WATCH: Stanley Park is the best place for homeless, says Marpole protester

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Stanley Park is the best place for homeless, says Marpole protester – Nov 10, 2017

But while such a move would bar discrimination based on a person’s social status, Bennett said it shouldn’t be about punishing anyone who disagrees.

Rather, she’s calling for an education campaign that would set the terms among municipal politicians, citizen participants and others about what are fair grounds for discussion.

READ MORE: Marpole modular housing protester says Stanley Park is the best place for homeless people

She said that could mean setting limits on what’s addressed in the zoning process, so that conversation focuses on what is actually happening to a property — not who will use it.

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“And then what’s more difficult to get at is how are the decisions actually being made, because in zoning processes, we don’t tend to have written decisions that explain exactly why a decision was made,” she said.

READ MORE: Langley seniors live ‘in fear’ as they share building with people with mental health issues

“But there’s also that question of how is the input from the public, which may actually be discriminatory, actually influencing the outcome?”

Construction continues at the site of Vancouver’s controversial Marpole modular housing site, which is expected to be online by February.

Last week, the City of Vancouver announced the newest location for the units, next to the south foot of the Cambie Street Bridge.