The B.C. Supreme Court has granted an injunction ordering the ‘decampment’ of people living in the tent city of Saanich’s Regina Park.
Residents of Regina Park have been told they must leave by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11. At that time the area will be fenced off and Saanich will begin remediation efforts. The tent city has been set up since May.
Justice Ward Branch cited the increased fire risk as a main factor in the decision. He said the residents had a reasonable time to meet the conditions of the terms of the fire order from the Saanich Fire Department but failed to do so.
The defence’s key argument in the trial was the need for daytime shelter for people experiencing homelessness. This is in addition to the recently amended Saanich bylaw that permits temporary, overnight sheltering in non-sensitive parks between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.
Branch said that by making a case for daytime shelter the defence is trying to “steer the law in a new direction,” and noted the defence is facing an “uphill legal battle.”
Among the reasons listed was the loss of use for residents wanting to visit Regina Park, though Branch also noted it is a little used park with minimal maintenane and no planned events.
He also listed off recent social housing developments in the region in defense of the province’s efforts.
“This is a death sentence,” said Chrissy Brett, organizer and representative of Camp Namegans. “This will cost lives, there will be more lives lost on the street, in dumpsters, donation bins and overdoses.
Brett pointed to the B.C. Coroner’s report that said people experiencing chronic homelessness live a life expectancy of 40 to 49, rather than those who are housed.
On Thursday Brett met with the very Saanich Police officer who arrested her in June (over a dispute about a cigarette).
“The police understand … working with people to understand there is some humanity and compassion from that side,” Brett said. “I’m hopeful if there are residents working towards [complying] with the order and haven’t quite met it, there may be a choice with the police to work with residents who are working to comply, to [let them] leave the encampment in a way that makes sense to them.”
“I don’t see this serving anyone’s best interests and in fact it puts the residents there at risk,” said Stephen Portman from Together Against Poverty Society, who has spent most of his career working with people who live in poverty. “We have a gentleman who died in a trash compactor, that’s how people die who are homeless.”
No one has died at Camp Namegans, they have safety and security there, Portman added.
The court heard Branch’s deliberation, often referencing previous tent city cases such as Super Intent City and Cridge Park in Victoria and Abbotsford.
Saanich lawyer Jeff Locke said they’ll test the soils of Regina Park soon and have contacted the person who led the “remediation” of the courthouse lawn after the 2016 disbandment of Super Intent City.
Representatives expect it to take at least a few weeks, during which time staff would remove hazardous materials, mow the lawn, and put down eight to 12 inches of wood chips. Once deemed fire safe, Saanich would then allow residents to seek overnight shelter, while prohibiting camping during the day.
“You work with this population and you know what people who are homeless go through, what people who live in poverty go through, and you see the community they built, the safety and security that they built there, that they have, and that it’s going to be torn from them, and put their lives at risk,” Portman said. “Why are courts used to do decide where homeless people should live?In a civilized society we have a legislature, we have abundant resources in Victoria and Saanich, no reason the people there shouln’t have a place to live.”
Portman added the constitutionality of the bylaws are very much in question and TAPS will likely work with Camp Namegans to challenge the ruling. That case could take 10 months to begin.