Group files suit over people sheltering at Beacon Hill Park

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park, upset with the scope of camping there, have filed a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court ­alleging that the City of Victoria is in violation of the park’s trust.

“Twenty four/seven camping is not allowed under terms of the trust,” said group president Roy Fletcher.

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The park has been ­governed by a trust since being transferred to the city by the ­province in 1882.

Private donations have been coming in to support the case, he said, and over $22,000 was already in the kitty by ­November thanks to a GoFundMe page.

“There’s other money coming very shortly, promised.”

Fletcher said the city has 21 days to respond and another 35 to produce documents “which puts us well past Christmas and into the new year.”

“And then it’s going to be ­difficult getting court time.”

The city acknowledged in a statement that it had been served with a claim.

“The claim is being evaluated by the city’s lawyers and will be responded to in accordance with ordinary court process,” the city said in a statement. “No one should be forced to shelter in city parks, but unfortunately the present reality is that some people have no other choice.

“The city continues to work closely with the province, B.C. Housing, the [Capital Regional District] and the federal government to find housing for all who need it, and is working with social service providers to assist those who are experiencing homelessness.”

The city said it has been working hard on concerns like mitigating the impacts of homelessness on parks.

“We are confident that the city’s actions regarding sheltering in the parks, including Beacon Hill Park, are lawful.”

Friends of Beacon Hill Park lawyer John Alexander said the main question for the court to answer will be whether use of Beacon Hill Park for sheltering, or any form of residential occupation, contravenes the park trust. “The Friends will be seeking declarations that the trust still rules, still governs.”

He said the trust has been brought to bear on park use in two previous cases.

Specific declarations sought will include one saying that the trust overrides any other means, such as bylaws, to decide what happens in parks, Alexander said.

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park had first hoped to join a court proceeding started by the city that resulted in a temporary injunction calling for park campers to stay away from culturally and environmentally sensitive areas. Their plan was to introduce the park trust to the mix.

Victoria council has said that it is seeking to have all of the people who are currently sheltering in areas like parks moved inside by March 31.

Lawyer Cathie Boies Parker, who is representing people staying in parks, said she doesn’t agree that sheltering there is prohibited, and that even if it were courts would have to consider the right to “life, liberty and security” as put forward by the Charter of Rights and ­Freedoms.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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