Ten­ters set­tle on B.C.-owned land un­der po­lice watch, but min­istry hasn’t au­tho­rized camp re­moval

Saanich po­lice say Trans­porta­tion Min­istry hasn’t au­tho­rized camp’s re­moval

Times Colonist - - Front Page - JEFF BELL jw­bell@times­colonist.com

About 40 peo­ple in 27 tents were hun­kered down in a new en­camp­ment Satur­day while a pair of Saanich po­lice of­fi­cers watched from a dis­tance.

Most of the campers had moved to the site — a provin­cially owned green space bounded by Ravine Way, Carey Road and Blan­shard Street — from a long-term home­less camp in Regina Park, some via a stop in Rudd Park.

The Regina Park site was shut down last week af­ter five months by a B.C. Supreme Court in­junc­tion, forc­ing more than 100 peo­ple to re­lo­cate.

Saanich po­lice is­sued a state­ment Satur­day evening say­ing the Trans­porta­tion Min­istry, which owns the prop­erty, has not au­tho­rized po­lice to en­force the Tres­pass Act and re­move the ten­ters from the new site.

Po­lice said large quan­ti­ties of fur­ni­ture and other ma­te­ri­als have been de­liv­ered to the prop­erty, and the group has a “sig­nif­i­cantly more con­fronta­tional tone” than ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the Regina Park en­camp­ment.

Camp or­ga­nizer Chrissy Brett said campers are claim­ing the new spot as an “ur­ban re­serve.”

“We wanted to cre­ate a place where ev­ery­one could be­long, so we’ve de­cided to claim this as the first ur­ban re­serve here in B.C. and we are now Namegans Na­tion. Namegans means ‘we are all one’ in Namgis.”

Brett is a mem­ber of the Nux­alk First Na­tion from Bella Coola. Namgis First Na­tion is based in Alert Bay on the north end of the Is­land.

The Regina Park site was known as Camp Namegans.

Brett said be­cause it’s on pro­vin­cial land, the new lo­ca­tion is ex­empt from a Saanich by­law that says camp­ing in 102 des­ig­nated mu­nic­i­pal parks can hap­pen only from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m.

“We fig­ured that we should look for green space that doesn’t have park, that’s not lined up against a bunch of houses — and al­low peo­ple that are cit­i­zens to be able to share space,” Brett said.

Once Regina Park un­der­goes re­me­di­a­tion from long-term camp­ing use, those who were stay­ing there will be per­mit­ted to re­turn, as long as they obey the by­law pro­hibit­ing day­time camp­ing, Saanich has said.

Camper Blair Este said it was hard to have to break up the Regina Park camp and sep­a­rate into smaller groups, but he is not giv­ing up. “If we get forced out of here, it’s on to the next spot and the next spot and the next spot.”

Brett said Saanich po­lice have warned that the group might be handed a no­tice of tres­pass at some point.

Brett said the group is aware that some nearby res­i­dents are con­cerned about the new en­camp­ment, but mem­bers have been try­ing to re­as­sure them.

“A neigh­bour that stopped in felt a lot of her fears were al­le­vi­ated by com­ing and hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion,” she said.

“I think there will al­ways be neigh­bours that don’t un­der­stand and I think there are neigh­bours that are open to un­der­stand­ing what those larger is­sues are.”

Brett said all lev­els of gov­ern­ment need to get in­volved to ad­dress the hous­ing cri­sis.

“So here is our in­vi­ta­tion to [Saanich] Mayor [Richard] Atwell, [B.C. Premier] John Hor­gan and [Prime Min­is­ter] Justin Trudeau to come to our ta­ble and dis­cuss this hous­ing cri­sis that we’re fac­ing all over Canada.”

In a state­ment, the Min­istry of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs and Hous­ing said the en­camp­ment high­lights the lack of af­ford­able and sup­port­ive hous­ing op­tions in the re­gion.

It said the prov­ince re­mains com­mit­ted to its of­fer of fund­ing to the Dis­trict of Saanich to build new sup­port­ive hous­ing, cit­ing a 10-year plan to build 2,500 units of sup­port­ive hous­ing provincewide. “In the mean­time, we will con­tinue to do ev­ery­thing we can to sup­port peo­ple who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness, in­clud­ing those at the new home­less camp,” the state­ment said.

It said that in­cludes work­ing with non-prof­its to ex­pe­dite the open­ing of win­ter shel­ters and to dis­trib­ute rent sup­ple­ments to help peo­ple find rental hous­ing in the pri­vate mar­ket.

The in­junc­tion call­ing for campers to leave Regina Park was is­sued Sept. 7 in B.C. Supreme Court, with Jus­tice Ward Branch point­ing to fire safety as a ma­jor rea­son be­hind his de­ci­sion. A cig­a­rette had led to a mi­nor fire in a tent the pre­vi­ous week.

The tem­po­rary in­junc­tion will last up to 10 months, at which point the is­sue of a per­ma­nent in­junc­tion will be de­cided in court.

DAR­REN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Saanich po­lice talk to peo­ple who have set up a new en­camp­ment at Carey Road and Ravine Way. Po­lice say the group has a “sig­nif­i­cantly more con­fronta­tional tone” than the five-month Regina Park en­camp­ment.

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