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Group says city is blocking affidavit in Beacon Hill Park sheltering court case

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society is accusing the City of Victoria of trying to prevent it from adequately arguing its case in court that sheltering in the park should not be allowed.
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Victoria bylaw officers walk through homeless encampments near the playing fields in Beacon Hill Park in April. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society is accusing the City of Victoria of trying to prevent it from adequately arguing its case in court that sheltering in the park should not be allowed.

Roy Fletcher, president of the society, said the group has tried to add an affidavit from a retired professor of landscape architecture in Montreal to court proceedings scheduled for ­September to determine whether the park can be used for ­temporary sheltering by people who are homeless.

The affidavit was submitted as part of proceedings initiated by the city to seek the court’s direction on whether the park can be used for temporary sheltering. That hearing is scheduled for the week of Sept. 20.

In the nine-page affidavit, Ron Williams writes that the presence of temporary shelters used by people without homes was not envisioned when the park was established and does not fit the purposes defined by the park trust in 1882.

Williams acknowledges the “desperate shortage of housing” in the city, but says Beacon Hill Park is not a suitable site for temporary housing because of the vulnerability of some of its natural features, such as Camas fields and Garry oak ecosystems.

The city has objected to the affidavit’s inclusion in the court proceedings, arguing Williams’s report is hearsay, includes evidence he’s not qualified to give and provides an opinion on the issue at hand, which is for the court, not an expert, to answer, according to a court document filed by the city.

The court will hear arguments on the admissibility of the affidavit the week of Aug. 16 to determine whether it will be included in the full proceedings.

The August hearing will also determine whether some evidence submitted by Shea Smith and Dennis Davies, who have sheltered in the park, is admissible, after the society raised concerns about it.

Fletcher accused the city of stalling. “The city, and possibly the province, are delaying this as much as they can and burning up as much court time as they can, using up as much of our resources as they possibly can,” he said.

The society has submitted an affidavit by one of its members that will be included in the September proceedings.

In June, Victoria councillors voted to ban sheltering in Beacon Hill Park for at least two years to allow the area to be restored after people were allowed to set up tents for months during the pandemic.

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park have said they want the ban to be permanent.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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