A bill introducing Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods legislation in the Northwest Territories was sent back to the drawing board on Wednesday.
The bill, which would give four government investigators the right to evict suspected drug dealers and bootleggers from their homes, met with harsh public opposition.
“Northerners told us, loud and clear, that they want community-based solutions to the social problems that result from substance abuse and the related illegal activity,” said NWT social programs committee deputy chair Norman Yakeleya in a release.
“A 1-800 number to an office in Yellowknife is not going to provide those solutions. ”
The bill was challenged by lawyers, public advocates, the NWT Human Rights Commission and the BC Civil Liberties Association.
“Eviction is a very serious recourse,” said BC Civil Liberties articled student Christina Godlewska from Vancouver.
“Especially in a harsh northern climate with a housing crunch — being kicked out of your house is probably as serious, if not more serious, than being thrown in jail.”
The bill undermines the charter of rights and freedoms, according to NWT Human Rights Commission submissions.
“It violates the principles of fundamental justice,” it writes.
“It requires a low standard of proof, given the severity of losing one’s home or facing imprisonment.
“And it denies the rights of the accused to face their accuser or to have all the information necessary to mount a defence.”
The criminal process is set up to ensure that people are innocent until proven guilty, said Godlewska.
“But the way this thing is set up, you could have a situation where a neighbour tattles on another neighbour to the director of Safer Communities.
“The director could then take it upon themselves without any notification to the residents to go directly to the landlord and say, ‘Either you evict these people, or I’ll see you, the landlord, in court.’
“And through this whole thing, nobody has even talked to the resident.
“They’ve had no notification, they can’t attend a hearing, they can’t make submissions in their own defence — none of the most basic safeguards that we have in the criminal justice system were being granted to people under this legislation, even though they were being punished with something very, very serious — eviction.”
There is also a danger that individuals living in the same housing as the accused would be adversely affected by the bill, according to the NWT Human Rights submission.
“The appeal mechanisms are onerous and do not provide meaningful protection for an innocent occupant,” it wrote.
Human Rights criticizes the bill’s “intrusive investigative process,” which includes video surveillance and information gathered from neighbours.
“The whole idea of neighbours snooping on neighbours and large bodies of information and surveillance being shared between bureaucrats and police and neighbours is problematic,” said Godlewska.
“(The bill) is a major infringement of people’s civil liberties,” she said.
It creates “an atmosphere where law could be used arbitrarily by local officials pursuing personal interest and ambitions for discriminatory purposes,” wrote Human Rights.
The bill had too many deficiencies to be amended and passed before the dissolution of the NWT’s 15th legislative sitting, said social programs committee chair Sandy Lee, in a release.
“The concerns raised by residents centered on the unintended consequences of enacting the SCAN legislation, the rights of an individual to face their accuser, appeal orders made under the act, and the extent of the powers that would be given to officers appointed under the act.”
The bill will be shelved until the next sitting, said Lee.
The Yukon government implemented SCAN legislation on November 30.
Since its inception, the Safer Communities office has received 96 public complaints resulting in nine formal evictions, voluntary cessation of alleged illicit activity on seven properties, and one official warning.
Complaints have been made on 75 properties.
The Yukon Human Rights Commission refused to speak to the issue.
The commission has to remain neutral, said Human Rights chair Melissa Atkinson.