Saanich tent city residents ordered to leave after court grants injunction

Saanich and the province were granted an interim injunction Friday to shut down a homeless camp in Regina Park, with Saanich calling for the site to be vacated by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Fire danger was a prime reason for the decision, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ward Branch said in delivering his judgment.

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Just last weekend, Saanich firefighters were called to the camp when a lit cigarette ignited material inside a tent. No one was hurt and damage was minor.

Branch said the establishment of the camp in late April, led by activist Chrissy Brett, was part of a “broader attempt” to raise awareness of homelessness, and that governments are making some progress in providing needed housing. And while the camp has been a central point for service agencies to help people, there have also been mounting problems, Branch said.

“There is some evidence of rats, garbage, urine, feces and needles,” he said.

Branch noted that Brett is alleged to have said things like “it will not end well,” in reference to the camp being dismantled.

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

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell welcomed the ruling and expressed hope that campers will vacate the park voluntarily.

“Saanich’s goal since the beginning of the encampment has been to achieve voluntary compliance with its bylaws,” he said, reading from a statement.

“In the face of open defiance by the encampment and its leadership, as well as significant and increasing health and safety risks, it’s become necessary to seek the assistance of the court.”

Atwell said the interim injunction will allow Saanich to clear and remediate Regina Park, a task that is expected to take two to three weeks. “Saanich will treat the vulnerable persons vacating the park with dignity and care throughout the decampment process,” he said.

With about a dozen supporters standing around her outside court, Brett said the dismantling of the camp, which has grown to 112 people, will cost lives. “There will be more lives lost on the streets and in dumpsters and donation bins and through overdoses.”

Asked if she will leave on time, Brett said she is continuing discussions with police and other officials, but hasn’t decided what she will do when the deadline comes.

Whether other people leave on time will be up to them, Brett said. The court heard that Saanich police will take a “soft approach” in clearing the camp.

Brett said that the campers have options. They could leave as a group, they could stick together and stay. Ultimately, Brett said, she thinks the people in the Regina Park camp will largely disperse.

“I think there’s some that may reach out to family and friends and maybe go back to couch-surfing, but at the end of the day I would say a majority of people there will just return to a cubby, a doorway or to the shadows that this court has sentenced them to.”

Friday’s court decision will be felt beyond Victoria, Brett said.

“I think this is a sad day in Canada for all homeless Canadians,” she said. “And I think it is a death sentence when they don’t recognize these colonial courts can talk about continuing to displace our people with absolutely nowhere to go.”

Once people have left Regina Park, it will be fenced off in preparation for remediation. Campers will be able to return once the work is finished, as long as their shelters are set up only between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. There are 101 other Saanich parks where that regulation is in place as well.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

lkines@timescolonist.com

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