Possessions
of Precariously
Housed People

Glossary

Case:

A legal action brought to a tribunal or court, which will include evidence and arguments on behalf of the parties.1

Case law:

published reports that tell us what other judges have done in similar circumstances.2 Canada and the provinces and territories within Canada (excluding Québec) use a common law system where a judge’s ruling is made based on previous court decisions. Case law is therefore important as it offers a guide of how a decision might be made in the common law system.

Decampment:

the use of enforcement of laws, bylaws, regulations to force people who rely on public space to dismantle their tent or other shelter and move their belongings from their current location. Decampment generally speaks to the removal of a single tent or larger encampment, and can be done through various legal mechanisms such as daily bylaw enforcement and street sweeps, to coordinated dismantling by way of court ordered injunction. Decampment can include the seizure, impound, and/or destruction of belongings. Often associated with the word ‘eviction’, however ‘eviction’ generally refers to the removal of someone from a space to which they have, or had, legal rights.

Injunction:

a court order which prevents someone from starting or continuing an activity, either permanently or temporarily (e.g., interlocutory and interim injunctions).3 Injunctions are often sought by municipalities in B.C. seeking to remove people camping on city property. See the Streets section for more information.

Jurisdiction:

the power to hear and determine the outcome of an issue.4 This power can be held by a government, court, tribunal, judge, or official. Jurisdiction also refers to the district or limits within which a court or government can enforce or execute its powers.5

Precarious:

The word “precarious” has legal origins signifying a vulnerability to the will or decision of others.6 Precariousness in regards to property includes a relationship in which one party has the power to change a particular set of relations, whereas the other lacks immunity to such changes.7 This report generally discusses precarity in the context of land and personal possessions: precariously housed people and the subsequent precarity of their belongings. Precariously housed people include those with relatively insecure rental tenures compared with land owners (fee simple title holders), shelter residents who may not be protected by landlord–tenant law, and unhoused people who are highly vulnerable to the actions of private and state actors. Precariousness is socially and legally produced: it is an outcome of structural conditions such as colonialism and capitalism, rather than a product of personal failure.

Trespass:

In law, trespass to land occurs when a person intrudes upon another’s private property without permission from the owner. Trespass law also applies to objects that have been placed on land without the owner’s permission.8 (online), Trespass, “Trespass: Trespass to Land: General” (II.1.) at §29.

Unmarketable:

a term or concept used throughout legislation to refer to when a person’s belongings are permitted to be destroyed. Although often undefined in the legislation (see BC’s Police (Disposal of Property) Regulation and the City of Victoria’s Parks Regulation Bylaw regarding ‘market value’), it presumably refers to items for which a person could be sold for a considerable or not nominal amount.

Vulnerable / Vulnerability:

the increased potential or likelihood of negative health and social outcomes or harms. This report also speaks to vulnerability as a state of being that means a person is at risk of experiencing enforcement of laws and bylaws (see ‘precarity/precariousness’). Vulnerability as a risk of enforcement therefore increases one’s vulnerable status by perpetuating health and social harms. Vulnerability is a condition, characteristic, or status that is not inherent to a group of people, but is created or perpetuated by systems of power (e.g. laws and regulations) against oppressed groups.

Footnotes

  • 1. Barron's Canadian Law Dictionary (QL), 2009 ed, sub verbo "case”.
  • 2. R v Mikijuk, 2017 NUCJ 2 online at para 15.
  • 3. Kate Gunn, “Injunction as a Tool of Colonialism” (30 July, 2020), online: First Peoples Law.
  • 4. Québec (Procureure générale) c Guérin, 2017 SCC 44.
  • 5. Barron's Canadian Law Dictionary (QL), 2009 ed, sub verbo "jurisdiction”.
  • 6. See Alexander Vasudevan, “The makeshift city: towards a global geography of squatting” (2015) 39:3 Prog Hum Geogr 338 at 351 as cited in Nicholas Blomley, Alexandra Flynn & Marie-Eve Sylvestre, “Governing the Belongings of the Precariously Housed: A Critical Legal Geography,” (2020) 16 Ann Rev of Law & Soc Sci 165.
  • 7. See Blomley et al, ibid.
  • 8. CED 4th