City staff refusing to work in Beacon Hill Park after threats

A group of City of Victoria parks staff is refusing to work in Beacon Hill Park after an incident Tuesday in which two city employees were threatened by someone in the park.

The city said in a statement the two employees were confronted by someone who threatened them and the public. They said staff found a safe spot and called 911.

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Since the incident, some parks staff have been exercising their right to refuse work, the city said.

City staff will be limiting their work to garbage pickups and bathroom cleaning while the city investigates the incident. Employees normally weed, water and maintain the park’s natural areas, manicured flower beds, footpaths and sports fields. Staff will continue to work in the parks yard off Cook Street.

The city says staff encounter aggressive people occasionally, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the frequency of these types of incidents, because there are more people living in parks and other outside spaces. The pandemic has forced shelters to close or drastically reduce capacity.

Staff have been using a hazard risk assessment, which is reviewed and updated weekly, to keep workers safe during the pandemic.

Mayor Lisa Helps said in a statement that everyone deserves to feel safe in their workplace.

“I was disheartened when I learned that parks staff have recently been the subject of verbal abuse and threats,” she said.

Helps said the pandemic has created challenges and she’s proud of how staff have adapted to follow new safety protocols.

“I want to express my deep gratitude for the service of our parks staff — they continue to do exceptional work in difficult circumstances and make us proud during these unprecedented times,” she said.

Helps said the city is continuing to advocate for more funding from the provincial and federal governments for housing and mental-health supports.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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