BC Housing is seeking to have a lawsuit from the City of Penticton opposing a controversial emergency homeless shelter thrown out of court.
In a response filed Sept. 14 in B.C. Supreme Court, the Crown corporation says under the B.C. Interpretation Act, the provincial government is not bound by municipal bylaws.
The city refused to renew a temporary use permit for the Victory Church shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street and is fighting for the temporary shelter to be closed.
The city has cited the shelter’s location downtown near seniors’ housing facilities, which it calls inappropriate, as a major sticking point.
BC Housing argues the shelter is providing a lifeline to 42 people experiencing homelessness and reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
“The closure of the property would frustrate these policy objectives,” the response stated.
BC Housing said it plans to continue operating the homeless shelter until March 31, 2022.
The Crown corporation points to the COVID-19 pandemic and related physical distancing restrictions that limited the number of people who could sleep at the city’s other homeless shelter, Compass House, during the 2020-21 winter season.
“BC Housing’s use of the property as a temporary shelter was and continues to be a successful vehicle through which the Crown objectives of providing housing to the homeless and preventing the spread of COVID-19 may be fulfilled,” the response to the claim stated.
“BC Housing feared that closing the property while Compass House was unable to provide necessary shelter to the residents of the property would increase the risk that some of those individuals might seek shelter on the streets of Penticton or in encampments and be subject to dangerous or unhealthy living situations.”
From a legal standpoint, BC Housing said it applied for the initial temporary use permit through the City of Penticton as a courtesy, but isn’t bound by city permits and bylaws.
The Crown corporation warns that if the courts find the provincial government waived its Crown immunity by cooperating with the municipal government, it could set a precedent in the future.
“This may seriously deter intergovernmental cooperation and prevent future Crown entities from working to maintain cordial relations with municipal governments. Although Crown immunity can be relied upon in the use and development of land, optimal solutions for British Columbians are reached through mutual trust, respect, and communication between different levels of government and their agents,” BC Housing said in the court filings.
According to the city, when B.C. invoked paramountcy, it was “a unilateral move to operate an intended temporary winter shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street as a year-round facility.”
Paramountcy is a little-used rule that allows the province to override local council decisions.
“This matter involves a community land-use problem and council remains united on the position it’s taken with the province since first learning of Mr. Eby’s decision to ignore the will of our community as it relates to 352 Winnipeg Street,” Penticton mayor John Vassilaki said in a press release issued on July 7.
David Eby, B.C.’s housing minister, has publicly blasted Penticton city council for trying to shut down the shelter.
“Council has listened and by way of polls, petitions and letters, thousands of residents have told us that 352 Winnipeg Street is no place for a shelter, and we agree,” the mayor said.
“That is why Council denied renewing the permit and why we continue to oppose the facility, at this location. We hope BC Housing will do the right thing and close the shelter, adhere to the city’s bylaws and avoid the necessity of going to court.”
Neither the city’s nor BC Housing’s arguments have been tested in court.