Court orders campers to leave Duncan park

Homeless people who set up tents in a downtown Duncan park have until Thursday at 3 p.m. to dismantle the fledgling encampment following an injunction issued by a B.C. Supreme Court judge.

Justice Brian D. MacKenzie made the ruling Tuesday, eight days after the city’s lawyer first made a request for a hearing in an effort to block more campers from settling in Charles Hoey Park, where about 10 tents have been erected

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Chrissie Brett, an advocate for homeless people, requested more time to prepare a response to the eviction, but was unsuccessful, city lawyer Troy DeSouza said. Brett, who could not be reached for comment, also advocated for Victoria tent city residents who spent the better part of a year living on the grounds of the Victoria courthouse.

At the Duncan park, Brett said earlier that the campers have a right to peaceful assembly and protest, and intended to continue camping until Duncan develops plans for more permanent housing for homeless people.

The Duncan encampment was established March 31 but DeSouza said the number of campers was increasing and the city did not want to see it get larger and entrenched. “Duncan is so small” — it has about 5,000 residents — “and it doesn’t have the resources Victoria has.”

The City of Duncan requested the campers vacate the area but was rebuffed, prompting legal action.

Overnight camping is allowed in all Duncan parks starting at 7 p.m. but campers must vacate by 9 a.m., said Mayor Phil Kent. If the estimated 20 campers relocated to another park and respected the hours, they can continue to camp, he told the Times Colonist.

“The organizers are there to make a political statement about the need for social housing and more permanent (housing) solutions,” Kent said. “I don’t know that we disagree. (But) that’s a very central park, right in the very centre of our downtown.”

He said that he understands that Brett has “clearly suffered pain in the past.”

Ten tents in a small city is “a big deal,” DeSouza said. The campers are preventing city residents from enjoying the park and have cost the city an estimated $15,000 in enforcement, clean-up and legal costs.

“The people in the encampment are breaking the law and the public is entitled to their park,” DeSouza said.

He said that as far as he knows, this is the quickest permanent injunction granted to remove homeless people in B.C., compared to 11 days in Vancouver in 2011 and nine months in Victoria in 2016.

The injunction directs the RCMP to enforce provisions of the court order. After 3 p.m. Thursday, campers who refuse to leave will be deemed in contempt of court, DeSouza said.

There are enough shelter beds at Warmland House in Duncan for the campers, and people who were previously asked to leave are welcome to return once their behaviour is under control, the city said in a statement. Some of the campers had previously complained that they were not welcome at Warmland.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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