The City of Victoria has won a civil suit that it spent $5,000 to “vigorously defend” because it feared losing would impact its ability to enforce certain bylaws in the future regarding tents in public parks.
B.C.’s Civil Resolution Tribunal ruled on Feb. 17 against Niki Ottosen, an advocate for unhoused people who sued the city for $500 after some items she had donated were seized by bylaw officers.
Ottosen said in her suit that the bylaw staff “wrongly confiscated” some donations she had collected for unhoused people and then did not return all of the items in the “same condition as when they were taken.” Advocates have told Black Press Media previously that bylaw officers are too quick to seize items and sometimes those items are not properly returned.
In the CRT decision, Ottosen was said to have received a call from another advocate for unhoused people seeking donations for the purpose of establishing a “respite tent” in a city-owned public park.
“Ottosen went to her mother’s residence that evening to collect numerous items her mother wanted to donate for the respite tent, such as cots, blankets, sleeping bags, food, and medical supplies,” reads the CRT decision. “Mrs. Ottosen then took those donated items to the park and delivered them.”
Two of these “respite tents” were erected in the unnamed park by a person only listed as MM with the donated items inside – to be distributed the next day. On Sept. 26, 2021, city staff arrived and gave MM a bylaw violation ticket because tents are not permitted on sports fields in city parks.
“The bylaw officers also impounded the tents and their contents,” said the decision.
On Oct. 21, 2021, bylaw officers returned the impounded items to MM, but Ottosen was not present for this.
“Ottosen says that she went to MM’s residence and was ‘stunned’ when she saw what the bylaw officers had returned because she could immediately tell many items were missing,” said the decision.
“She says all the items had been new and in original packaging when donated, but everything was unpackaged and thrown loosely into garbage bags when returned to MM.”
Ottosen filed the CRT case looking for $500, the amount she claims the items were worth.
The city denied the claims, saying its bylaw officers were authorized to impound the donated items. It sought $5,000 from Ottosen to cover legal fees.
“(The city) also says that Mrs. Ottosen has not established the City ever possessed the items she alleges went missing,” and that Ottosen had “no standing” in the dispute because she didn’t own the items and wasn’t present when they were confiscated, reads the decision.
The CRT sided with the city, saying Ottosen does not have any standing in the case.
“I find the items never belonged to Mrs. Ottosen,” says the decision. “For that reason, I find Mrs. Ottosen does not have standing to bring a claim against the City in negligence or conversion about the alleged missing items, and I dismiss this dispute on that basis.”
The CRT also said that even if it found Ottosen had standing to sue, she “failed to prove her damages.”
But the CRT stopped short of making Ottosen pay the city’s $5,000 legal bill.