City granted injunction barring camping in sensitive areas of Beacon Hill Park

People sheltering in park have 48 hours to move to less vulnerable locations

The City of Victoria has been granted an interim injunction prohibiting people from taking shelter in environmentally and culturally sensitive areas of Beacon Hill Park.

On Tuesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mayer granted an order requiring people camping in those areas to remove all tents, structures, garbage and personal property within 48 hours.

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Any items remaining in the prohibited areas after the deadline can be removed or disposed of by the city. The order also stipulates that the city provide written notice to those taking shelter in the park indicating if they are in a prohibited or non-prohibited area.

During the proceedings, the court heard that the 74-hectare park contains large environmentally sensitive areas, which include fragile Garry oak ecosystems, coastal bluff, camas meadows and culturally sensitive areas.

People can still take temporary shelter in 20 hectares within the park.

On July 10, when the city started its legal proceeding, there were 42 shelters in the protected areas. Ten days later, that number had increased to 51. On Tuesday, bylaw officers counted 38 shelters in the prohibited areas and 78 in the permitted areas.

The order also prohibits anyone from using any open-flame appliance, including a personal heater, barbecue or camping stove, anywhere in Beacon Hill Park, except as authorized by the city.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she expects everyone to respect the court order and relocate to areas within the park where sheltering is not prohibited. The city did not seek an enforcement order, which directs the police to ensure individuals comply with the order.

“We recognize that this will make those camping more visible and we hope that as a community, we can come together to get through this challenging time,” she said in a statement.

Bylaw staff and community outreach workers have been meeting regularly with the approximately 100 people sheltering in Beacon Hill Park and many people have already moved, said the statement.

The city said it will continue to help people move to appropriate areas and connect them with provincial housing supports and health services.

“No one should have to live outside because they don’t have a place to call home, but in our city, throughout the region, and across the country there are countless people forced to do just that,” Helps said. “The solution to the challenges we are facing in Beacon Hill Park, and in communities across B.C., is housing.”

Neil Carfra, one of the lawyers representing the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society, said the order doesn’t go far enough, since it continues to allow camping in the park.

“The position of my client is that the City of Victoria holds the whole park in a trust and allowing any overnight sheltering is inconsistent with the terms of the trust,” said Carfra, noting when issues of park use have gone before the courts before, in 1884 and 1998, the courts concluded the trust’s terms had to be strictly followed.

“We took the position today that this order needs to happen, but there may be further work done by us to raise the other issues with the court.”

Society chairman Roy Fletcher noted that some of the campers have indicated they are not moving. “Whether the police or bylaw [officers] will go in, we don’t know, but we’re intending to see if we can go ahead with action under the trust,” Fletcher said on the steps of the courthouse.

Helps called on the federal government to match the province’s “historic investments” in affordable housing in the region.

“As a city, we are doing everything we can to support these investments with investments of our own — from the Victoria Housing Fund to expediting developments and making city land available for affordable housing projects,” she said.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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