When Alexandra Flynn began interviewing unhoused people about the belongings they had lost during encampment evictions, she knew there would be tents, sleeping bags and clothing on the list. What she didn’t expect, however, was how much of what was confiscated and discarded would be family heirlooms, memorabilia and sentimental treasures.
“What people told us was devastating,” Flynn, an associate professor at the Allard School of Law in British Columbia said. “They lost not just belongings that mattered for their survival, but things that mattered to their humanity. Things like photo albums, their mother’s ashes, their baby’s first shoes.”
Flynn, who together with colleagues from the University of Ottawa, has been studying the property rights of the unhoused, said those lived experiences are not atypical of encampment evictions across Canada.
“There’s a lack of humanity in the law around understanding that these are people’s things. This is their identity, their survival” she said.
It’s a reality that’s been faced by hundreds of Edmontonians who, earlier this month, faced eviction from eight unhoused encampments. For many of them, eviction didn’t just mean finding somewhere new to live, but also the loss of much, if not all, of their property.
Municipal Rights vs. Property Rights
Regardless of your feelings about the evictions — which Edmonton Police Service (EPS) and the City have said were sanctioned due to unsafe living conditions, issues of organized crime within the encampments and tens of thousands of complaints — it stands to reason that experiencing homelessness doesn’t strip you of your rights to ownership, even during an eviction. But according to Flynn, that’s not always the case.