A deadline that asked some 90 homeless people to leave Greater Victoria’s Regina Park came and went Tuesday night without any arrests.
This development marked an anti-climatic end to a day that started with questions and speculations about how various groups, including police and camp residents, would live up to the terms of the court order.
Justice Ward Branch Friday issued an injunction against the camp in a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that gave camp residents until 7 p.m. on Sept. 11 to leave the park, where campers have been tenting since May.
Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell said Tuesday afternoon that police are “likely” to arrest those who refuse to leave the homeless camp alongside the Trans-Canada highway for political reasons as a court-ordered deadline approaches.
“People, who are defiant and want to make a political statement are likely to be arrested,” he said.
Atwell’s comments echoed earlier statements that police would be in a position to arrest individuals after the deadline, as Saanich would not grant camp residents a “grace period.”
He also said police would use all “reasonable means to achieve voluntary decampment before relying on the power of arrest,” and suggested that camp residents facing difficult circumstances would receive a grace period.
Camp leader Chrissy Brett — who earlier said some people were pondering the possibility of passive resistance — believed many were working hard to comply with the court order and accused Atwell and City of Saanich lawyer Jeff Locke of being unfamiliar with the facts on the ground.
“Their ideas on paper look better than what is on the ground,” she said in accusing Atwell of “micro-managing” the situation.
Atwell denied the charge. Neither he nor council have instructed police to arrest campers, he said. The power stems from the court-order issued last week, he said.
The starting point of Tuesday’s back-and-forth was Friday’s court ruling, which activists have denounced as “cruel and inhumane” and a “death sentence,” citing statistics that show people experiencing chronic homelessness live a life expectancy of 40 to 49, rather than those who are housed.
Under the ruling, Saanich staff would then start re-mediation of the site, a process set to last a few weeks. They would remove hazardous materials, mow the lawn, and put down eight to 12 inches of wood chips. Once deemed fire safe, Saanich would allow residents to seek overnight shelter, while prohibiting camping during the day.
As Tuesday morning broke, it appeared that few camp residents had left the site. The picture appeared similar around lunchtime. But this perception might have been deceiving. According to camp leader Chrissy Brett, anywhere between 20 and 30 residents had left the camp site by noon, leaving between 70 and 80 people behind at the lunch hour.
Several officers with the Saanich Police Department were walking among the tents at the time, while Brett was in discussion with Sgt. Andy Stuart to discuss steps during the next few hours. Police also fielded questions from residents, who are worried about losing access to the camp as Saanich plans to erect a fence around Regina Park starting Wednesday morning.
Current plans call for a community meeting at 7 p.m. when the deadline expires, and Brett expressed hope that Saanich police would not act like police in Seattle, where authorities recently disbanded a homeless camp.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Right now, my concentration is ensuring to support people, who have been offered housing to take housing, and celebrate those small wins.”
Updates to follow.