The Yukon Supreme Court will hear a constitutional challenge of the Yukon’s Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) Act.
In an Oct. 22 decision, Justice Suzanne Duncan denied an application from the Yukon government to dismiss the challenge that was launched by Celia Wright in January 2021.
The SCAN Act allows the Yukon government to investigate complaints of illegal activity at homes and, in some cases, evict tenants on short notice without regard for existing rental agreements.
Wright, her partner and eight children were served an eviction order for a rented property near the Carcross Cutoff with five days’ notice.
Court documents note that the five-day notice was later extended for a further six weeks. The eviction order was later rescinded completely as Wright and her family had moved and the matter was addressed between her and her landlord.
Still feeling that the SCAN Act is a violation of civil liberties, Wright continued with the lawsuit anyway. The suit challenges the section of the SCAN act that allows for evictions based on an alleged infringement of her constitutionally guaranteed rights to life liberty and security of person.
The Yukon government applied to have the challenge struck, claiming that Wright had no reasonable cause to sue.
Although the short-notice eviction was rescinded, the judge ruled that Wright has a continuing interest in the case and that hearing it in court would be in the public’s interest as well.
“I agree with the petitioner that this lawsuit is a reasonable and effective means of challenging the legislation. The petitioner has demonstrated the capacity to initiate this litigation. She has a direct interest because of her receipt of a notice to terminate her tenancy from the Director under the SCAN Act and her landlord,” Duncan’s judgement reads.
Duncan also states that she does not accept the Yukon government’s assertion that all individuals who may be affected by the SCAN Act have the necessary resources and sophistication to bring a legal challenge because of their alleged lucrative illegal endeavours.
“People involved in these activities (assuming the allegations are proved) are just as likely to be marginalized or disaffected individuals. If they are engaged in illegal activities, they may not wish to initiate a public court proceeding, no matter how much they may feel it is justified,” the judgement reads.
Duncan writes that failing to allow the challenge risks immunizing the SCAN act as there has only been one challenge to it in its 15-year history.
In a parallel decision, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) was granted intervener status in the case. Interveners are third parties who are allowed to make arguments in a court case. The judgement states that the main issue being considered was whether the CCLA has a unique and different perspective that will assist the court is the resolution of the challenge to the SCAN Act.
The CCLA persuaded the judge that their national base and their involvement challenging legislation in the past will assist the court in deciding the issues raised by Wright’s case.
The approval of the constitutional challenge comes as the Yukon Government is mulling the expansion of SCAN to allow evictions based on a wider range of offences.
A bill tabled by Minister of Justice Tracy-Anne McPhee earlier this month would add more activities to the list that the SCAN unit can investigate. Use of the property related to child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation as well as gangs, criminal organizations and illegal firearms may become grounds for eviction if the amendment is passed.
— With files from Gabrielle Plonka
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org