The next time the temperature plummets, Vancouver cops will likely be allowed to force street people into shelters under a proposed law the province says protects the homeless, and homeless advocates say violates people’s rights.

The Assistance to Shelter Act was officially introduced yesterday by Rich Coleman, minister of housing and social development.

“This legislation will help to prevent tragedies such as the one that occurred last winter when a woman died trying to keep warm in a makeshift shelter,” Coleman said, adding he expects it’ll be in place this winter. But Laura Track, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, said the law would essentially criminalize people for being homeless.

“Allowing the police to force people to take shelter is going to push (them) into unsafe and less visible areas so they can avoid detection,” she said, adding there are adequate provisions under the Mental Health Act to allow police to bring people inside who are a danger to themselves.

David Eby, with the Civil Liberties Association, said if Coleman were truly concerned with the wellbeing of the homeless in the winter, he’d create more low-barrier shelter beds instead.

“The hypocrisy of this initiative is startling,” he said. “This law will be used to protect (our image) from storms of tourists and international media.”