Alberta judge strikes down Edmonton homeless encampment lawsuit

A lawsuit against the City of Edmonton over encampment teardowns has been dismissed by an Alberta judge. Laura Krause has more on what this means for the human rights group.

A lawsuit against the City of Edmonton over encampment teardowns has been dismissed by an Alberta judge.

In his decision Tuesday, Justice Jonathan Martin determined the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights doesn’t have a legal standing to fight the case.

Martin said the human rights group lacks expertise and experience in working with the unhoused – putting an end to the lawsuit.

“The Coalition does not in fact bear any of the hallmarks of a party with a real stake or genuine interest in the outcome,” the Court of Kings Bench Justice said.

A lawyer for the Coalition said he was disappointed by the outcome.

“This is not what we were hoping for,” Nanda said. “A lot of energy and resources are put into this challenge, but we do think it has changed the city. We know it has changed on the ground how unhoused folks feels, how social agencies are engaging with the city, and the city’s own policy.

“Essentially, the court found that despite our efforts in this area, in terms of working with the unhoused or addressing human rights in Edmonton, it was insufficient for us to bring a lawsuit against the city.”

The Coalition filed the lawsuit in August, saying the displacement of homeless people from their camps is a violation of their human rights. The group was pushing for an injunction, similar to the emergency injunction granted in December that limited the city and police on how they can remove eight encampments deemed “high risk.”

All eight have since been taken down in recent weeks.

“Many encampments are left often. It’s the dangerous ones, the ones that pose risks, not only to the homeless but also to the community, that end up being closed,” said Jeffrey Westman, legal counsel for Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee.

“Our officers are out there doing really hard work every day. Vulnerable persons out on Edmonton streets are having an Incredibly difficult time, but there’s so many different dimensions of suffering to this problem, and we just have to be aware that as a community, we’re all feeling it.”

Homelessness a priority for Edmonton, city says

In a statement, the City of Edmonton said it was “pleased” with the judge’s ruling.

“Our response to this legal action is in no way intended to diminish the City of Edmonton’s concern and dedication to ensuring the safety of our unhoused residents and the well-being of our communities,” the city added.

“Housing and homelessness are a critical priority for the City of Edmonton, but we also do not believe that protracted litigation will contribute to meaningful solutions on these issues.

“We will continue to support community agencies in their outreach work, assess and respond to encampment sites according to an established procedure, and continue our efforts to balance public safety and protect Edmonton’s most vulnerable residents.”

WATCH: Human rights group faces off against City of Edmonton in court over encampment response

Despite the loss, the lawyer representing the Coalition believes their work has already made an impact, and says they will explore other legal avenues,

“The city is forced to account for what it does to thousands of unhoused people each year, and that would not have been possible had it not been for the Coalition’s efforts,” Nanda said.

The Coalition for Justice and Human Rights has 30 days to appeal the court decision, if it chooses to.

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