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Saanich going to court over Regina Park tent city

Encampment has grown to unsafe levels, says Saanich mayor; needles, human waste, noise, fire risks cited
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The tent city in 1.35-acre Regina Park, adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway, is occupied by dozens of campers. Campers have defied Saanich's notices to leave.

Saanich is going to court in an attempt to force tent city campers to vacate Regina Park.

In a B.C. Supreme Court action expected to be heard the week of Aug. 13, Saanich will argue the 75 to 90 people camped there are trespassing in the municipal park.

Mayor Richard Atwell said the occupation of the small park adjacent the Trans-Canada Highway near the Uptown shopping centre has grown to unsafe levels.

The municipality has issued two notices. The first, issued in June, was a notice to vacate.

“We were hoping for voluntary compliance on that, but that didn’t occur and the camp numbers increased since that time,” Atwell said.

That was followed this month by a notice to end the occupation of the park.

“Again, the numbers have increased,” Atwell said, “and it’s now reached an unsafe level where we’re challenged by our ability to go in and minimize the risk to life through dangers from fire.”

The district’s notice of claim says the continued occupation of the park by campers poses a number of problems, including improper disposal of hypodermic needles and human waste, noise, odours such as smoke, human waste and refuse, and property crime.

The camp is also keeping other members of the public from the park, it says, and is damaging trees and other vegetation.

Fire risks continue to be posed by campers smoking and by the use of cooking appliances and use of propane, the district says. Fire commissioner orders have not been complied with and the hazard in the park continues to be extremely high, it says.

The district is seeking an injunction ordering the campers out of the park and to take their personal property, refuse and other materials with them. Failure to do so would authorize police to arrest anyone not complying.

In its notice of civil claim, Saanich notes that it amended its Parks Bylaw on July 12 to align it with earlier court rulings that said it is unconstitutional to prohibit someone from erecting temporary shelter in a municipal park in the absence of sufficient shelter beds.

Of Saanich’s 172 parks, 102 — including Regina Park — may now be used for temporary overnight sheltering between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. Those using the parks for shelter cannot remain longer.

The district also notes that at the request of the campers, it provided a hygiene station with washrooms, showers and property storage adjacent to Saanich Municipal Hall, about 600 metres from Regina Park.

The claim, which names tent city spokewoman Chrissy Brett, says she and others have, since last year, been part of a roving protest group that has erected tents and camped on public lands in Duncan, Colwood, Victoria, View Royal, Central Saanich, Langford, Oak Bay and North Saanich.

It says that on April 19, Brett informed Saanich that the group’s intention was to occupy the park temporarily. According to the court documents, Brett told the district on or about May 23 that the group’s intention was to stay indefinitely.

Neighbouring “residents have been dealing with the situation since mid-May and they’re showing, I think, a lot of patience with regard to this,” Atwell said.

“We’re going to have to wait a little bit longer in order to get to court so that this can be heard.”

Brett said she intends to address the court action at a news conference today, and repeated earlier comments that the tent city is located on unceded Indigenous land.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Meanwhile, the City of Nanaimo has been in court over a tent city on municipally owned land on Port Drive.

Last week, Supreme Court Justice Ronald Skolrood heard arguments from DisconTent City lawyer Noah Ross, who argued that Nanaimo’s request to disband the camp should be denied because the city has not provided alternative accommodation.

Skolrood granted Nanaimo’s request for an interim order that requires tent city residents to comply with all fire safety regulations by July 25.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com