For Immediate Release
March 4, 2021
UNCEDED KWANTLEN, KATZIE, KWIKWETLEM, QAYQAYT TERRITORY (SURREY): On Monday, March 1st, bylaw officers seized Shiloh Cheyanna Ghostkeeper’s belongings, including the tent, bedding, and warm clothes she needs to survive winter nights on the streets of Surrey.
Bylaw officer Jag Bhandal decided that Ghostkeeper’s belongings were garbage; he seized and threw them away without giving Ghostkeeper any opportunity to retrieve her possessions. When she protested, Bhandal threatened her with arrest.
The incident has taken a heavy toll on Ghostkeeper. “I cried all day yesterday,” she said. “It messes with a person’s head, mentally, and it messes with you physically.” Ghostkeeper has decided to speak out about her experience to pressure the City of Surrey to change its discriminatory policies. “They should treat us like humans, not like animals,” she said.
WHAT: Rally and press conference
WHEN: Thursday, March 4th at 1:00pm
WHERE: Outside of Surrey Urban Mission (SUMS)
10776 King George Blvd (at 108 Ave), Surrey
The City of Surrey endows individual bylaw officers with the power to seize and dispose of homeless people’s belongings based on their individual whim. As the manager of Community Enforcement, Martin Blais, said in a phone call on Tuesday, “If we think it’s garbage, it immediately goes into a disposal vehicle.” Once items are thrown away, there is no opportunity to retrieve them.
City of Surrey policies, which allow for the routine theft of homeless people’s belongings by police and bylaw officers, contravene Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to security of the person and property. At a “know your rights” workshop in June 2020, Pivot Legal Society advised, “If police are trying to take your things, you can inform them that you need your belongings to survive, and that by taking your belongings, they are putting your health and safety at risk. Your rights to life, liberty, and security are protected by Section 7 of the Charter.”
A survey being conducted by the Whalley Street Council, a group of unhoused and underhoused community leaders, shows that Ghostkeeper’s experience of police and bylaw seizure of her belongings is a widespread problem for unhoused people in Surrey.
The Council has surveyed 40 members of the Surrey street community and found that 85% of respondents have lost belongings to police, bylaw, private security, or social workers. Respondents have lost tents (30), bedding (30), clothes (30), money (28), identification (26), medication (24), keepsakes (31), and other items including work gear and tools, photographs of loved ones, and family members’ ashes.
The Whalley Street Council is demanding:
- That the City of Surrey immediately end police and bylaw theft,
- Provide secure storage lockers for every unhoused person in Surrey, and
- Compensate Shiloh Cheyanna Ghostkeeper $1,000 for her lost belongings; and
- That the Province of BC to build permanent social housing with rights under the RTA for every unhoused and underhoused person living in BC.