The City of Edmonton wants to recoup $25,000 in legal costs from the not-for-profit advocacy group which unsuccessfully sued the municipality over its removal of homeless encampments.
Documents filed at the Court of King’s Bench of Alberta Wednesday show the City of Edmonton is seeking money from the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights to partially cover a $42,626 legal bill. The coalition was suing the municipality, arguing the way it handles camps puts vulnerable people in danger and violates their constitutional rights.
The not-for-profit won a temporary court order against the city in December that put rules around how eight large camps deemed “high risk” could be removed after plans for a police-led sweep emerged days before Christmas.
But an Alberta court ultimately denied the coalition public interest standing in the lawsuit last month. A judge sided with the city’s legal team and ruled the group does not have a genuine stake in the outcome and cannot represent homeless Edmontonians because of its lack of connection to that community, expertise, experience, and reputation.
The city, in the newly filed court documents, claims the request to cover partial costs is fair because it balances the city’s substantial use of resources and the plaintiff’s not-for-profit status. Rejecting this claim would be problematic because the coalition was not granted standing, it states.
“Allowing a party that has been denied standing to evade costs would encourage parties that do not have a real stake or genuine issue in the outcome to bring litigation knowing that there is no risk of a cost award against them,” the document states. “Parties with no genuine interest in the outcome should not be encouraged to attempt litigation by knowing that they can always seek cost relief if standing is denied.”
Lawyers representing the not-for-profit worked pro-bono. An online fundraiser shows the coalition raised $5,175 of its $25,000 goal for legal fees.
It is expected to contest the city’s court action.
The coalition earlier told the court this cost could be so high it would impact the volunteer organization.
“This argument is problematic for two reasons and should not serve as a bar against cost recovery. This would firstly suggest that the coalition’s undertaking as to damages was not filed in good faith,” the city claims, adding previous courts ruled a losing party’s financial status isn’t usually relevant.
Lawsuit costs the public purse
Costs borne by the city included $19,975 in legal fees, of which more than $12,000 was spent for questioning, at $675 charged per witness.
Disbursements — such as court reporter fees — amounted to $20,534. At $13,650, an occupational health and safety expert report analyzing the “hazards and risks to those living in and working around encampments” was the biggest expense in this category.
Parties that bring forward litigation must be prepared to pay if they lose, even if a municipality uses in-house lawyers, the city claims. Costs are important to prevent frivolous lawsuits and recognize municipalities’ financial limits, the document states.
“A costs award serves an important purpose of deterring suits of little merit ‘advanced by parties with no real stake in the litigation.’ The coalition in this case was found to have no real stake in the litigation,” the document states.
“Costs may be awarded to recognize a substantial expenditure of public funds. This rationale is particularly important in the context of municipal governments. Municipalities have much smaller and more constrained budgets than provincial and federal governments.”
The litigation came about quickly and was complex, the city argued.
“Based on complexity, the degrees of success … and the amount of work performed in short order, a compelling case for … (the larger amount) can be made, but the city maintains a request for a lump sum.”