Half of Beacon Hill Park deemed forbidden for homeless camps

About half of Beacon Hill Park has been designated environmentally sensitive and off-limits to tenting.

The Victoria council decision comes amid continuing debate over where and when homeless people should be allowed to set up camps.

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Councillors amended the city's parks regulation bylaw yesterday, reducing by an hour the time when tents can be pitched -- it now starts at 8 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. -- and prohibiting erecting any structure in areas deemed sensitive.

Other areas deemed off-limits for tenting in the amended bylaw, which comes into effect tomorrow, include playgrounds, sports fields, footpaths, roads within a park, Bastion Square and park areas designated for a permitted event or activity.

The bylaw also prohibits tenting in Moss Rock Park, Cecelia Cove Park and Summit Park -- except the reservoir -- since they're considered environmentally sensitive. Other designated no-camping areas are the Garry oak stands in Topaz Park and Robert Porter Park.

City staff used the provincial Environment Ministry's Sensitive Ecosystems Inventory for Eastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands to determine environmentally sensitive areas.

Areas within Beacon Hill Park identified as sensitive include virtually all of the park south of Circle Drive, the cliffs along Dallas Road and the Mayor's Grove area that was the site of a fledgling tent city late last year.

Coun. Philippe Lucas said the new regulation should work fine provided enforcers consider the needs of people requiring shelter.

Lucas noted that partially in response to Victoria's bylaw, Toronto has amended its parks bylaw to allow camping in some parks but not on grassy areas. "Here in this city, we've taken quite the opposite tactic, where you can camp on the grass all you like, but we're a little more worried about our bush and natural areas."

The city has been wrestling with the issue of tenting in parks ever since B.C. Supreme Court Justice Carol Ross ruled in October that it was unconstitutional for the city to prohibit the homeless from erecting shelters to protect themselves from the elements in the absence of sufficient shelter beds.

Two days after the decision, city council met behind closed doors and decided to appeal Ross's decision. They also passed a resolution creating a new enforcement policy that limited campers to erecting tents between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. On Nov. 6, the hours were changed to 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

In January, provincial court Judge Brian MacKenzie found three people not guilty of violating the city's anti-camping bylaw enforcement policy, based on a legal technicality.

Council closed the loophole last month and a Victoria provincial court judge upheld the constitutionality of the city's bylaw and convicted two men of erecting temporary shelter on public property between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

bcleverley@tc.canwest.com

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