A Whitehorse woman has filed a petition claiming the section of the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) Act that spurred her eviction violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The petition was filed against the Yukon government’s Director of Public Safety and Investigations.
Celia Wright, 29, was evicted on Dec. 9. She was living at a property near the Carcross cutoff with her partner and eight children.
According to the petition, four Yukon government officials visited her Cowley Creek residence on Dec. 9 and informed her that she had five days to move out. They cited SCAN as the authority for the eviction.
Wright protested that moving her family of 10 to a new residence in five days during a housing crunch and pandemic was impossible. Members of her extended family were also living in the property’s adjacent suites.
After obtaining Vincent Larochelle as legal counsel, Wright’s eviction was pushed to Jan. 30. She filed a petition on Jan. 7 requesting a reversal of the decision to evict her, as well as a declaration that Section 3(2) of the SCAN Act violates her charter rights.
Prior to the eviction, Wright had planned to purchase the property in early 2021. When she contacted her landlord on Dec. 9, her landlord said “he did not wish to sign the eviction notice” because Wright and her family were in good standing.
The landlord said he was told he would be brought to court as an uncooperative witness if he didn’t agree to the eviction. He was then barred from contacting Wright or her family for 24 hours.
Wright’s landlord “advised that he felt threatened to sign the letter and was very hurt that he could not contact the petitioner or her family,” the petition says.
Wright has spent the last month searching for alternative housing through her First Nation, social workers, hotels and the public rental market, with no success.
“The only option identified by (Wright), temporary, is to check herself into the women’s shelter with her eight children, to somewhat ironically shelter herself from unconstitutional and oppressive state action,” the petition says.
SCAN Act called “draconian, abusive and unconstitutional”
The SCAN Act allows the Yukon government to resolve complaints of alleged illegal activity at a property by serving a five-day notice of eviction, regardless of any existing tenancy agreements.
Wright’s petition says the SCAN eviction was spurred by a complainant, “one suspects from RCMP itself rather than an actual neighbour.”
On Nov. 5, Wright and her partner were charged with possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking and possession of property obtained by crime over $5,000. Their Cowley Creek residence was subject to a police raid. The case has not yet gone to trial.
Wright was released on bail, on the condition that she remains at her residence.
The petition notes that Wright’s trafficking charges were the only reason given for her eviction, though she should be “presumed innocent” until the issue goes to trial. Wright plans to plead not guilty, according to the petition.
Wright’s abrupt eviction serves as evidence that the section of the SCAN Act is “draconian, abusive and unconstitutional,” the petition says.
SCAN Act has disproportionate effects, counsel argues
The petition claims that Wright’s potential threat to the safety and security of Yukoners while living at that property is “marginal,” while the effect of eviction on her family is dramatic.
“There simply are no houses on the market that can accommodate (Wright) and her family. The Act is therefore condemning the petitioner to homelessness,” the petition says.
“Such a choice should befall no mother…. It is not only unconstitutional, it is inconsistent with basic values that hold our society together, such as respect for human dignity.”
The petition claims that the section of SCAN violates Wright’s charter right to liberty and security. Her liberty encompasses personal autonomy, or where she chooses to live. Her eviction without accessible alternative housing impairs the security and safety of her family.
It additionally argues that the SCAN Act inhibits Yukoners from presenting their case fully and fairly. The SCAN procedure is closed, unfair and subjective, the petition argues.
It also contends that evicting a family from a secluded property recently subject to a police raid “makes absolutely no sense,” as Wright is following judicially ordered conditions.
“Any risk she does pose has been curtailed,” it says.
“(Wright) will carry that ‘supposed’ risk wherever she goes…. (and) would lead to the absurd result that petitioner would be evicted from any property that she rented.”
The petition further argues that it is “overbroad” to evict Wright’s extended family from the residence, who weren’t involved with the criminal charges.
Contact Gabrielle Plonka at firstname.lastname@example.org