Vancouver Sun

City of Victoria taken over by ‘criminals and thugs’



Irked by a crime-ridden tent city that refuses to pack up — and assailed by threats when they try to stage meetings — a new Victoria, B.C., community group has arisen to declare that its picturesqu­e capital has been taken over by “criminals and thugs.”

“Residents are furious with the complete lawlessnes­s that’s been allowed to go on,” said Stephen Hammond, founder of Mad As Hell, a group campaignin­g against a massive tent city that has been allowed to flourish next to the city’s courthouse.

The group, which takes their name from a line in the 1976 movie Network, was set to hold their inaugural meeting this Thursday at Victoria’s Harbour Towers Hotel.

However, hotel owners cancelled the event after reporting that they had received a number of unspecifie­d threats, and Ham- mond has been unable to find a replacemen­t venue.

“It’s official; bullies are running Victoria,” he said.

Since last spring, a tent city has emerged on provincial­ly owned grounds next to the Victoria courthouse.

Swelling to as many as 100 people housed in tents and semiperman­ent shanties, the camp saw a drug overdose death late last year, at least three stabbings and a wave of thefts, break-ins and vandalism, according to neighbours.

At times, the smell of wood smoke from the camp’s sacred fire has permeated the chambers of the B.C. Supreme Court.

In response, the province of B.C. purchased a $3.65-million building to use as a “low-barrier” shelter that would admit newcomers without the normal restrictio­ns against alcohol or drug use.

Neverthele­ss, tent city campers have refused to leave. On Tuesday, the B.C. Supreme Court turned down the province’s bid for an injunction to evict the campers.

Unusually for the founder of a group with the moniker “Mad As Hell,” Hammond has a relatively progressiv­e track record. He runs a workplace harassment consultanc­y urging business owners to “change with the times” and until recently, served on the board of Our Place, Victoria’s most wellknown homeless non-profit.

Mad As Hell’s literature advocates increased supports for the poor and mentally ill, but aims to call out what they see as B.C.’s strategy of building “no-restrictio­n ghettos” and tolerating “permanent” tent cities.

Hammond lives a couple blocks away from the tent city, and says three of the four houses on his block have suffered recent breakins. Hammond himself had a plastic tub of nails stolen, and many neighbours have reported missing bicycles.

“There are so many bike parts in that tent city, the Olympic cycling team would be drooling,” he said.

Shellie Gudgeon, a Victoria restaurant owner and former city councillor, was an early supporter of Mad As Hell, calling it a reaction against an emerging “thuggery” in Victoria.

“The poverty industry in Victoria hearkens back to the evil corporatio­ns of 40 years ago; they’re strong, they’re effective, they silence you,” she said. “I had my car’s roof slashed … people would threaten boycotts (against my restaurant) regularly.”

But Ben Isitt, a Victoria councillor since 2011, dismissed Mad As Hell as representi­ng a “minority segment of public opinion,” and called their message “counterpro­ductive.”

“I know people who live right on that street (across from the tent city) who don’t have a problem with the encampment,” he said.

 ?? CHAD HIPOLITO / THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? One member of Mad As Hell says the “poverty industry”
in Victoria maintains its strength through thuggery.
CHAD HIPOLITO / THE CANADIAN PRESS One member of Mad As Hell says the “poverty industry” in Victoria maintains its strength through thuggery.

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