Campers gone from Regina Park tent city in Saanich; cleanup begins

All campers were moved out of the Regina Park tent city Thursday afternoon and excavators moved in to clean up the piles of debris.

The last residents were escorted out by police around 5 p.m., said Ashley Mollison, spokesperson for advocacy group Alliance Against Displacement.

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Excavators moved into the tent city around 4 p.m., piling debris and furniture into black dumpsters.

There was a heavy police presence in the park all day and officers watched as campers separated their belongings into items they would take with them and items they’d leave behind.

Campers are permitted back on site Friday morning when they can pack up their property. Piles of goods dotted the park. Items to be removed include tents, a barbeque, a wheelbarrow, chairs, bicycles and garbage bags stuffed with items.

The park has been surrounded by a fence and officers limited access to the park to campers, who had to make multiple trips to move their belongings. Saanich police had a mobile command unit set up at the end of Regina Avenue and blocked the roads leading into the camp.

“There is a significant change today with the amount of material being moved out and people decamping,” Saanich police spokesman Sgt. Jereme Leslie said earlier Thursday.

One person was arrested Thursday morning in a dispute over access to the site, Leslie said, but he was not charged and he has since been allowed to return to the camp to collect belongings.

The District of Saanich has been providing black plastic bins to residents, with the offer to store them for up to 60 days.

Saanich spokeswoman Megan Catalano said Wednesday that the municipality provide larger storage containers on a case-by-case basis but on Thursday she said the larger storage bins “haven’t been necessary.”

However, some campers expressed frustration that Saanich did not follow up on its promise, during a court hearing, to provide larger storage bins.

In a decision last week, 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.

About 20 of the campers evicted from Regina Park moved to Rudd Park off Boleskine Road on Thursday to spend the night.

They planned to return to Regina Park on Friday at 10 a.m. to pack up their remaining property.

Saanich police patrolled the area and controlled access to entrances at Regina Park.

At a news conference at a nearby playground, Mollison said most supporters who arrived to help on Thursday were not permitted into Regina Park. Camp supporters called for more housing for those in need.

Campers had to choose between taking a tent with them and having shelter overnight or leaving a tent behind so that their belongings could be protected from the elements, she said.

The events of the day resulted in criminalization of homelessness and humiliation of residents, Mollison said.

Camp founder Chrissy Brett said that two people were arrested Thursday.

Park resident Kristi Douglas said, “We all just want a place to live and this is the way we get treated, which is unfair.”

Anna Cooper, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, who has represented homeless people on the mainland, said: “This is just one of many camps. We are just going to keep having a cycle of tent cities until we find a better answer than this.

“I watched people’s dignity being violated all day today.”

Cooper said: “The least we can ask from our government is not to put people’s lives further at risk and that is what they are doing today.”

 

 

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