Scrap Community Safety Act, civil society groups urge Victoria

Act lacks the due process that is integral to democracy, advocate says

B.C.’s government should scrap its proposed Community Safety Amendment Act (Bill 13) as it is harmful to marginalized members of society, a coalition of civil society, faith, women’s and aboriginal groups said in a letter May 23.

The 15 signatories of the letter to Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said they were “deeply troubled” by the legislation, which they say would allow neighbours to report suspicions about other neighbours possibly engaged in anti-social or criminal activities, triggering a process that could result in court-ordered evictions.

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Farnworth said Bill 13 will help crack down on problem properties.

The law would allow people to make confidential complaints to a dedicated government unit, Farnworth said April 4 as he announced the 2013 law would be revamped and enforced.

The original act was passed in 2013 after being presented by then-minister of Justice Shirley Bond. It was not enacted, however.

While it allowed for confidential complaints, the legislation did not specify the use of previous convictions or that officials need not testify to those offences as the current bill does.

Civil libertarians’ assert proposed changes violate basic Canadian constitutional legal rights.

“Not only does the legislation allow a person’s previous criminal convictions—no matter how long ago—to be used in court as ‘proof’ that a person is still in a criminal organization or is involved in certain activities, but it will also allow a court to draw adverse inferences about a person even in the context of someone who was found to not be criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder,” the letter said.

What is problematic, said BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association president Mike Larsen, is the knock-on effect of such a law.

He used the example of a U.K. situation where local councils had the ability to issue anti-social behaviour orders on complaints from citizens. While the initial problem may not have been criminal, he said, disobeying an order would be.

Bill 13, he said, is problematic.

“Due process is integral to democracy,” Larsen said. “That’s not going to hold up in court.”

The signatories said Bill 13 should be scrapped and the old law not enforced.

“The voices behind this letter have much experience—including lived experience—with protecting and enhancing the safety of the most marginalized members of our community, in particular Indigenous women and girls” said BC Civil Liberties Association lawyer Meghan McDermott.

“We are all very familiar with how laws passed with the best of intentions can end up being used to hurt the very people the government sets out to support,” she said.

The groups said the act could be used to circumvent laws like the Provincial Residential Tenancy Act and the federal Criminal Code. Those enactments already have provisions to handle properties where criminal activities are adversely affecting others and have good safeguards for tenants and property owners alike, they said.

Signatories expressed concerns the law would cause people to think twice about perhaps helping someone with addiction or other mental health issues, or perhaps a person recently released from prison.

The groups said while other jurisdictions have similar laws, such legislation has been used to target entire households in which all members are law-abiding except for one

“In the context of growing racial tensions in B.C. and throughout Canada, these laws leave open an avenue for targeted harassment driven by racism and other forms of prejudice” said Meenakshi Mannoe, community educator at Pivot Legal Society. “This legislation will disproportionately impact vulnerable, and often over-policed, communities which are already overrepresented in the criminal justice system, including black and Indigenous communities.”

There has not, however been a successful challenge to similar laws in other provinces.

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