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Nanaimo residents rally to protest tent encampment

Two shootings have taken place near the encampment so far this year

Neighbourhood residents held a rally Tuesday calling on the City of Nanaimo and province to set up a working group to plan how to deal with a camp at the foot of a slope next to the Millstone River.

They want the city and Transportation Ministry, which owns the land, to clear out the encampment, typically home to 12 to 20 people, said Karen Kuwica, president of the Newcastle Community Association.

Two shootings have taken place near the encampment so far this year — one a week ago and another earlier in the spring.

“The incidents, the indicators and the data continue to warn us to take action,” said Kuwica, who is calling on the city to ban camping in that area, near 200 Terminal Ave., and in nearby Barsby Park, which allows access to the embankment.

It was the latest rally by unhappy Nanaimo residents frustrated by ongoing social disorder in the city, prompting protests for several months. Like other communities, Nanaimo is dealing with a population of unhoused residents, many of whom have mental health and addictions issues.

A march through the Nob Hill area is planned on Friday, said Nanaimo resident Kevan Shaw. In the past week alone, Old Victoria Road has been the scene of a stabbing — on June 14, the same day as the Terminal Avenue shooting — a knife fight, drug dealing, an assault, and a man with a knife chasing another up the road, Shaw said.

“Without overstating it, Nanaimo is under attack,” said Shaw, who attended Tuesday’s rally.

Kuwica said a senior city official told her that a cleanup of the camp near the river is being planned. She noted a previous cleanup was in October of last year.

“It’s hard to imagine the amount of human waste created there in that time by dozens of people,” Kuwica said. “Then there is the toxic medical waste and literally tonnes of garbage all making its way into the Millstone River, a protected salmon-bearing stream.”

More needs to be done, she said. “Significant changes must happen now to prevent an inevitable violent death.”

The community association is recommending the proposed working group include representatives from the municipality, Snuneymuxw First Nation, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Ministry of Transportation, RCMP, Stream Keepers, private land owners and neighbourhood associations to identify issues and make recommendations.

The community association is asking professionals with expertise in environmental design and remediation of riparian zones to share ideas on how to restore the river bank.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com