As Saanich tent city deadline nears, some pack up, some vow to defy

Some Regina Park tent city residents began packing up their belongings Monday while others said they’ll defy a court order that requires the campers to vacate at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Art Wagensveld, a 57-year-old, was folding up his tent and planning to walk over to Rock Bay Landing where he’s secured a room for 30 days.

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Wagensveld said he’s only been in the park for a month so his belongings fit in a large backpack.

Others who have been in the park since May have a more established set-up, including one man who operates a scooter repair shop out of a tent the size of a backyard shed.

In a decision on Friday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ward Branch granted Saanich and the province an interim injunction that requires tent city residents to vacate the park so it can be remediated.

Jeremy Fast and Jessica Nelson of Youth for Christ Victoria helped about 16 campers pare down their belongings to whatever they can carry on their back or in bike trailers. The District of Saanich said homeless people are able to camp in any other Saanich park as long as their shelters are only set up between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.

Fast and Nelson said they’ll be back in the park today with a trailer to help people move.

“The problem is, how does someone pack if they don’t know where they’re going?” Fast asked.

Saanich public works employees took down abandoned tents and filled four flat-bed trucks with discarded items such as old couches, bedside tables, patio umbrellas and wood.

Devon Gibbons, 30, said he’s not leaving the park until he’s offered a better housing option.

“Quite a few people are willing to stay and put up a bit of a fight,” said Gibbons. “People are willing to fight tooth and nail to keep their livelihood.”

About 112 people live in the park, adjacent to the Trans Canada Highway across from Uptown shopping centre.

“Now that we’ve found a place where we can band together and find some safety, they’re displacing us again,” said Gibbons, who lives in a secluded section of the park bordered by trees and the fence along the highway right of way.

One of his neighbours has constructed a quasi-permanent tree house, with a wood-frame deck surrounded by heavy plastic and accessed by painted stairs. In front of the tree house, four bikes in various states of assembly hung from the frame of an outdoor patio swing.

“There’s people with quite a bit of stuff,” Gibbons said.

Ashley Mollison, spokesperson for Alliance Against Displacement, said the advocacy group asked Saanich to give campers until Friday to comply with the order. The municipality had promised to provide U-Pak storage containers for people’s belongings but they had not arrived as of Monday afternoon.

District of Saanich spokeswoman Megan Catalano said there will be no “grace period” and anyone still on the property at 7 p.m. today will be in breach of a court order, which means the police have the authority to arrest them.

“Police will use all reasonable means to achieve voluntary decampment before relying upon the power to arrest,” Catalano said in an email.

Saanich police spokesman Sgt. Jereme Leslie would not say if police plan to arrest or forcibly remove people who defy the order.

“Right now we’re putting our collective efforts into achieving compliance with the court order,” Leslie said, adding he can’t discuss police planning.

Starting Wednesday morning, there will be a 24/7 police presence in the park and construction fencing will be erected.

Once the park is fenced off, crews will begin remediating the park, which is expected to take two to three weeks.

Campers will be able to return once the work is finished but they will have to take their tents down during the day.

The interim injunction will last up to 10 months, at which point a trial could take place on whether to grant a permanent injunction.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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