Niki Ottosen held a rally to discuss the dismissal of her case against the City of Victoria, which she alleges confiscated donations from unhoused people and failed to return them in the same condition, or at all.
The dispute, in which Ottosen defended herself against the city’s attorney Jeffrey Locke, was dismissed after B.C.’s Civil Resolution Tribunal found Ottosen lacked standing to bring it.
Ottosen, who operates an organization called the Back Pack Project said the donations in question were made by her family, after she received a call from another advocate, Millie Modeste.
“Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021 – during the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, and at a time where there were public health concerns and media reports of outbreaks in hotels and among the homeless community – I was called by my friend and outreach worker Millie, to bring donations to Topaz Park to help set up a respite tent for people to find shelter,” Ottosen said March 10, in front of city hall.
The carload of donations she delivered that night would be confiscated the next day by bylaw officers.
Twenty-one days later, when Ottosen said bylaw returned the items – which included tents, blankets, cots, medical supplies and sleeping bags – many things were damaged and over $500 worth of supplies were missing.
In the decision, the tribunal stated the case was dismissed because “the items never belonged to Mrs. Ottosen … Mrs. Ottosen does not have standing to bring a claim against the city in negligence or conversion about the alleged missing items.”
Ottosen said while she was disheartened by the decision to dismiss her claim, she was relieved the city’s counter-claim of $5,000 for legal fees was also dismissed.
However, she was required to pay $25 for the city’s submission fee, which she did – in nickels.
“These nickels represent the Crown’s long-standing policy of taking the last nickel from the poor,” Ottosen said.
The Parks Regulation Bylaw asserts that items can be confiscated from individuals sheltering in parks, and if not claimed can be thrown away or sold to auction, something Ottosen said is a waste for both the city and residents.
“I have often wondered how many thousands of dollars are spent each year on dumping fees at Hartland Landfill, to trash donations that have been handed out from outreach groups and non-profit organizations throughout the city,” Ottosen said. “And how much money does the city make every year from the financial proceeds of impounded items of the unhoused that are sold at auction?”
Other advocates spoke at the rally, including Millie Modeste and Karen Mills, who both called for action on the city’s part to end the practice of confiscating and impounding belongings, as well as for locals to demand humane treatment of those struggling to find shelter.
“We need your voice more than anything,” Modeste said.
Ottosen said the practice of confiscating items has far-reaching effects on those who live in the area, for those who need the shelter, warmth and support the items provide, but also for those who have donated.
“There are many groups and organizations of compassionate individuals throughout the CRD whose goals are to support people in our community with humanitarian aid while they wait for safe affordable housing,” Ottosen said. “These people dedicate their time, money, energy and resources, to help vulnerable community members, only to find that their hard-earned contributions end up in the landfill.”
In closing, Ottosen promised hers wouldn’t be the last case filed against the city.
“There are lawyers firms in both Victoria and Vancouver who are preparing legal claims and Charter challenges on human rights violations against the City of Victoria, as we speak,” she said. “We will seek all legal avenues necessary to protect those rights.”