Dr. Nicholas Blomley


Nick Blomley was a friend and colleague of fellow SFU geographer, Warren Gill. He has spent the last three decades engaged in research and advocacy related to local issues, particularly those concerning marginalization, exclusion, and poverty. As a critical legal geographer, he is interested in the spatiality of the law and the worldmaking consequences of legal geographies.

Local, community-based engagement has been central to Nick’s teaching, research, and service for decades. In the 1990s he worked with local organizations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (notably the Carnegie Community Action Project) to oppose gentrification-induced displacement. This also folded over into SSHRC funded research on gentrification and property, which culminated in his 2004 book Unsettling the City. For several years, he was a member of the Right to Remain (R2R) research collective, working in the Downtown Eastside with the grassroots SRO-Collaborative. Unlike much extractive research in the Downtown Eastside, this entailed deeply grounded community-based research aimed not at conventional research outputs, but rather, which sought to provide research supports to tenant organizing for improved safety, habitability, affordability, and sustainability in Single Room Occupancy buildings.

Nick was also a member of the Landscapes of Injustice research project. This multi-year, multi-partner initiative documented the racist process by which Japanese Canadians were dispossessed during the 1940s. It has generated vitally important resources aimed at a wide community audience, including a museum exhibit that has travelled the country, a searchable database for historians and family members to research the history of dispossession, innovative elementary and secondary school teacher resources, a digital storytelling site, and a major edited book to tell this vital and often neglected story.

As a critical legal geographer, Nick’s geographic insights and community-oriented work have generated important legal contributions. Nick was invited to offer expert opinion in relation to a 2002 constitutional challenge to Vancouver’s bylaws on panhandling. He also provided expert opinion in a case in Abbotsford regarding the use of public space by homeless people. This case was important in clarifying the Charter right to shelter on public lands and found City bylaws unjustifiably violated homeless persons’ Charter rights to life, liberty, and security of the person. More recently, his work on area restrictions (aka “red zones”) attached to bail and probation orders revealed the invidious and unlawful use of such restrictions and the highly punitive effect they have on criminalized people; it has been cited by the Canadian Supreme Court.

Currently, Nick is engaged in research on the challenges that precariously housed people face in securing and controlling their personal possessions. This has entailed a collaboration with a grassroots organization in Abbotsford, the Drug War Survivors. While ongoing, the goal is to not only amplify the voices of peers, but also to engage in legal reform and policy-relevant research. He co-authored an article with a community member that was published in The Conversation, arguing for the importance of attending to the insights of precariously housed people. Working with one of his graduate students who is embedded with Drug War Survivors, Nick is preparing a podcast that centres the testimony of marginalized people. A Canada-wide publicly accessible report was launched in November 2023, documenting the very real challenges associated with personal possessions.

Partnership Highlights

Possessions of Precariously Housed People – Belongings Matter

Ongoing research and work to amplify voices advocating for awareness and change with respect to personal belongings among those facing homelessness. In partnership with Drug War Survivors (DWS), this work has been featured in The Conversation, The Globe and Mail, and was released in a publicly available report in November 2023 entitled, Belongings Matter.

The 2020 short film, The Stuff We Own: Social Justice and the Geographies of Homelessness, provides an introduction to this work.

Landscapes of Injustice

This multi-year, multi-partner initiative documented the racist process by which Japanese Canadians were dispossessed during the 1940s. It has generated vitally important resources aimed at a wide community audience, including the “Broken Promises” exhibit, the book, Landscapes of Injustice: A New Perspective on the Internment and Dispossession of Japanese Canadians, an accompanying storytelling website, a searchable digital archive, and teacher resources for elementary and secondary teachers.

Red Zones

Research into the spatial conditions of release imposed on marginalized peoples in major Canadian cities culminated in the 2020 book, Red Zones: Criminal Law and the Territorial Governance of Marginalized People. Through deep and sensitive engagement with this marginalized population, individually and through many groups and organizations, this work revealed the punitive effect such restrictions have has been cited by the Canadian Supreme Court.