Madam Justice Duncan of the Supreme Court of British Columbia was recently faced with a difficult decision – to evict scores of homeless who had occupied Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside or to let them stay in their informal tent city. The City’s Park Board bylaws prohibited any one to stay in a park after its posted hours and prohibited the erection of tents without permission of the City. Moreover, the bylaws prohibited what one might term disorderly conduct. The posted hours for Oppenheimer Park were from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm. In other words, the park was closed from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am. While I will not suggest that, in the end, Justice Duncan came to the wrong result (Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation v. Williams, 2014 BCSC 1926), I will argue that she missed an extremely important element of the whole purpose of the tent city.
It is with heavy hearts that Canadians throughout the land close out this day. Today Cpl. Nathan Cirillo lost his life while serving as an honour guard at the War Memorial in Ottawa. A gunman shot Cpl. Cirillo in cold blood for motives that remain unclear. The gunman then moved to Parliament’s Center Block where a gunfight ensued and the gunman was killed. Canadians grieve for Cpl. Cirillo and for his family. They are deeply grateful for the courage and valour of the security forces who defended Parliament, its members, staff and visitors, putting their lives on the line. “Thank you” “merci” to them all.
The constitutional principle respecting access to justice was given a major shot in the arm today. In what I consider to be a stunning decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has given real force and effect to this unwritten constitutional principle and ruled that British Columbia’s civil hearing fee regulations are unconstitutional. The Court is increasingly aware, it would seem. that the unwritten constitution may be as important and sometimes more important than the written one. The decision of Trial Lawyers Association et al v. British Columbia, 2014 SCC 59 is a game changer.