On June 24, 2016, the Vancouver Sun published an article detailing the story of a man who, through criminal neglect, caused the death of a 77 year old grandmother. His boat trailer, old and decrepit, was in no shape to carry its load. The rear brakes that the man had installed himself failed as he had installed them improperly. The trailer fishtailed as the man drove down a hill, hitting and killing the woman, causing a tragedy for the local community. The presiding judge acknowledged the role that poverty played in the man’s inability to afford a new trailer or a mechanic to install his brakes, but declared, “Poverty is not a license to engage in activities which threaten the safety of others. Shortly put, a person who cannot afford to maintain his vehicle in a safe condition must not drive it.”

This man was held criminally responsible for choices he made while under the influence of poverty. If we accept this as legal precedent, what does it say about our provincial government that does not provide for its citizens because it finds itself preaching miserliness when called upon to sustain them? Consider the insurmountable housing costs BC residents have to endure because of a lack of subsidized housing units. Housing First strategies have been shown to have a positive impact on those suffering from mental illness and addiction. How many tragedies have there been because addicts in BC can’t find an affordable place to live? Criminal offenders coming out of prison often do not come out with much, and if they cannot afford a residence, what sort of depths might they be willing to sink to in order to get a roof back over their heads? How many families are torn apart because a parent must choose between paying for rent and paying for groceries? Of course, the BC Liberals would say that addressing any of these concerns would cost too much money, and we must simply accept that our neighbourhoods have to suffer because of it.

It is a question of responsibility. If we do not accept poverty as an excuse for the loss of a beloved grandmother, why do we accept it as an excuse for the community losses brought on by government inaction in subsidized housing? If this man who cannot afford to maintain his vehicle is forbidden from using it, what kind of legitimacy does the provincial government have if it fails so absolutely in its own duties to provide support for those who need it most?