Know Your Rights Workshop Series: Upholding the Rights of People Who Rely on Public Spaces, Part II

This is a two-part article on Pivot Legal Society’s know-your-rights workshop at Oppenheimer Park on December 13. 

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act (GSDOA)

The GSDOA is meant to protect people at the scene of an overdose, whether you are a witness, the caller, or the person overdosing. Some people may hesitate or decide against calling emergency response for an overdose because they are carrying drugs or drug paraphernalia, or have prior convictions for drug-related offenses. 

You are protected by the GSDOA from:

  • Charges of simple drug possession
  • Charges for breaching your court conditions where your offense is simple drug possession, specifically conditions of parole, pre-trial release, probation orders, and conditional sentences

You are not protected by the GSDOA from more serious charges, such as:

  • Production, possession for the purpose of trafficking, and trafficking of controlled substances
  • Warrants
  • All other crimes besides simple possession

You are also not protected against charges for breaching court conditions where the underlying offense is anything other than simple drug possession.

My tent is my home. What are my rights?

The law is not yet settled on whether or not a tent constitutes a home for the sake of Section 8 of the Charter, and if a person who lives in a tent has the same rights as someone who lives in a house. Pivot believes that people who live in tents should have the same rights as people who are housed. What can you do to help protect yourself if you live in a public space, such as a park, in a tent?

You can hang a sign that says, “This tent is my home.” Close your tent when you’re not inside it, or if you see police, bylaw officers, and fire department. If police ask to look inside your tent, tell them the tent is your home and you don’t consent to them entering it or looking inside. You can ask them why they want to search your tent. Always observe and document police interacting with you and your tent. If you are arrested after a tent search, tell your lawyer that you informed police that the tent is your home and you did not consent to them searching it.

The police are trying to take my things. What can I do?

Police should only be taking your property if: the property was obtained illegally (e.g. you stole it, you bought something that was stolen, etc.), the property was used to commit a crime (such as a weapon police claim you used to harm somebody with), or if the property will give evidence that a crime took place.

If police are trying to take your things, you can inform them that you need your belongings to survive, and that by taking your belongings, they are putting your health and safety at risk. Your rights to life, liberty, and security are protected by Section 7 of the Charter (and the Charter overrides any City bylaws.) 

If your property was illegally obtained (this includes property that was stolen by someone else and sold to you), you can’t get it back and it may be destroyed. If you lawfully own the property, be wary of signing any waivers (such as a “waiver of voluntary relinquishment”.) Try to record the officer’s name and badge number (or the number of their car, which should be nearby), which items they took, a file number (if they give you one), and the date that your belongings were taken. You can also use this information to try calling your local police property office and ask for your belongings back.

Bylaws

Municipal bylaws governing possessions, camping, and traffic on sidewalks may affect you if you rely on public space. If you are charged for a bylaw offense, you can dispute tickets through the provincial court. Remember, your Charter and human rights still apply. 

Ministry of Children and Family Development

In BC, social workers investigate complaints of child abuse and neglect on behalf of the Director of Child Welfare and Family Development. If you don’t allow a child protection social worker to meet with you and your child, they can file a court application to have a social worker, police officer, or other specific person enter your home or vehicle to search for the child and determine their welfare (if necessary, by force).

Social workers and police officers may remove your children from your home and they don’t need a court order to do this. If you are interacting with a social worker:

  • Make notes about your conversations
  • Have a supportive family member or friend present during interactions
  • Always get legal advice before signing any documents or attending court dates–the Parents Legal Centre provides free lawyers and advocates if you can’t afford legal aid

Resources

CCAP and Pivot’s workshop at Oppenheimer Park was an example of a community coming together to provide resources and education to its residents when the City itself could not. The content of the workshop was chosen purposefully; we wanted the residents of the park, who interact with police and City workers regularly, to be able to protect themselves. It can be intimidating and overwhelming as a person without a home to be stopped and ID-ed, detained, searched, and more. However, a community that is aware of its rights is a community that can protect itself and each other from arbitrary and discriminatory policing.

Pivot Legal Society is a human rights organization that uses strategic litigation and legal advocacy campaigns to reform systems that entrench and exacerbate poverty, homelessness, and social exclusion. Pivot is not a legal clinic or legal aid organization. Our mandate is to use the law strategically to achieve widespread social change. We do not provide any drop-in legal services or offer legal advice over the phone or by email.
If you are in need of legal aid, please visit Pivot’s resource page for legal referrals on their website: http://www.pivotlegal.org/legal_referral_info

CCAP’s free and public legal education workshops are funded by the Law Foundation of BC. Part 1 can be found in our “Know Our Rights” series tab.