Saanich mayor hopes tent city residents will obey injunction

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell is hopeful that Regina Park residents will leave by the court-ordered 7 p.m. deadline today in order to avoid being arrested.

“I think what’s realistic is that those people who are struggling to get out will get assistance like they’ve been getting right now. Those who are able to get out on their own and are in defiance of the court order are likely to be arrested,” Atwell said Tuesday afternoon.

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Police officers will use their discretion around when arrests need to be made, Atwell said.

“The court has issued an enforcement order and the police are working under that at the moment but we have to get to 7 o’clock before they make any of those decisions,” he said.

In a decision on Friday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ward Branch granted Saanich and the province an interim injunction that requires tent city residents to vacate the park so it can be remediated.

Saanich public works employees were back in the park today removing junk and old furniture that people had discarded.

Some people began packing up their tent while others were in no rush to leave.

Jeremy Fast, a volunteer with Youth for Christ Victoria, had a four-wheel-drive and was prepared to help people relocate their belongings to storage containers.

One couple in their 40s, Dee and Don, remained in their tent and said they’d leave when ordered to do so by police.

“We want to fight to help the cause but we don’t want to get in any trouble,” said Don, who came to Victoria a month ago from Vancouver. “We’ll do whatever the police want us to do. We’re not going to put up a fight.”

Kim Sam, 30, was surveying her items packed in black garbage bags and wondering where she was going to take them. She said her tent had been thrown away. She planned to sleep along the Galloping Goose trail.

One resident whose backyard faces onto the tent city said neighbours are fed up with the intimidation and criminal activity. “I hope it comes to an end,” he said.

Saanich police had a presence in the park all day.

The District of Saanich said homeless people are able to camp in 102 of Saanich’s 140 parks as long as their shelters are only set up between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. The district will give out pamphlets showing people where those parks are.

Atwell said the municipality is working with B.C. Housing to come up with longer-term housing solutions, including the possibility of an affordable housing facility in the old Emily Carr library on Blanshard Street.

Saanich police spokesman Sgt. Jereme Leslie would not say if police plan to arrest or forcibly remove people who defy the order.

“Right now, we’re putting our collective efforts into achieving compliance with the court order,” Leslie said Monday, adding he can’t discuss police planning.

Starting Wednesday morning, there will be a 24/7 police presence in the park and construction fencing will be erected.

Once the park is fenced off, crews will begin remediating the park, which is expected to take two to three weeks.

Campers will be able to return once the work is finished but they will have to take their tents down during the day.

The interim injunction will last up to 10 months, at which point a trial could take place on whether to grant a permanent injunction.

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