Group trying to end camping in Beacon Hill Park hopes to sue city after losing court bid

A group wanting to end around-the-clock camping in Beacon Hill Park hopes to sue the city, after its application to join existing court proceedings was denied by a B.C. Supreme Court judge.

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society applied to be added as a party to proceedings initiated by the City of Victoria that led to a temporary injunction requiring those sheltering in the park to move out of culturally and environmentally sensitive areas.

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The group wanted to be added as a party so it could introduce the Beacon Hill Park Trust agreement, which outlines the conditions under which the city was given the land for the park, including that it be maintained “for the use recreation and enjoyment of the public.”

The society argues that the city is violating the trust by allowing the park to be used for residential purposes, letting people without homes live there in tents and informal structures.

In an oral decision given Friday, Justice Geoffrey Gaul agreed with the city that participation by the group was not necessary to fully resolve all the issues in the city’s injunction application.

The city said in a statement that the proceedings were about the city’s ability to enforce the Parks Regulation Bylaw, and it was pleased that the judge agreed it was not necessary to resolve trust issues within the existing proceeding.

“The city is well aware of the terms of the Beacon Hill Park Trust and takes its obligations under the trust seriously,” said city spokesman Bill Eisenhauer.

Eisenhauer said those living in the park have no alternative, and the park does not consider sheltering to be a residential use.

“It is a necessity to protect themselves from the elements,” he said. “We all agree that people shouldn’t have to shelter in parks, but, unfortunately, that is not the present reality.”

The decision does not affect the validity of the temporary injunction granted in July, and the city expects people to continue to avoid sheltering in ­sensitive areas of the park.

Roy Fletcher, president of Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society, said the group is disappointed by the judge’s decision. They plan to sue the city if they are able to raise enough money. They’ve already raised more than $22,000 for litigation through private donations.

Lawyer John Alexander, who represented the group, said he has no doubt the decision will lead to more litigation “pretty quickly” from his client.

“The city is not going to avoid this matter,” Alexander said.

He said the courts have deemed the trust relevant to the use of the park in two previous cases, as well as during proceedings over the past three weeks.

Cathie Boies Parker, the lawyer representing those sheltering in the parks, said she doesn’t think the trust prohibits sheltering, and even if it did, the courts have to balance it with the rights of campers to “life, liberty and security” guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

She noted that a large military camp with more than 20 structures to house soldiers was set up in the park during the First World War, according to a historical account of the park by Janis Ringuette.

Boies Parker said it’s important to remember the context in which the society’s legal action is taking place, which is a pandemic that has exacerbated homelessness in the region.

“The people who are in Beacon Hill Park right now are really struggling with weather and with the difficulties of being homeless, and hopefully, they’ll be able to be housed soon,” she said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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