An activist supporting Nanaimo’s Discontent City claims the city will dismantle the camp on Friday, despite the provincial government’s recent request that it remain open.
Amber McGrath, supporter of Discontent City, told the News Bulletin that fire chief Karen Fry, the city’s director of public safety, informed her and other supporters during a phone call yesterday that the camp will be dismantled on Oct. 12. Fry, according to McGrath, also told them bus tickets would be purchased for those living in the camp who have family outside of Nanaimo.
“Any vehicle left on the property after midnight on Oct. 12 is going to be impounded and towed. Anybody that tries to stop their [belongings] from being taken away, cleaned up and thrown out, is going to be arrested and they are going to lose everything,” McGrath said . “They are going to be shoved out into our parks with maps saying where they can stay and there isn’t shelters for them.”
McGrath’s comments come just days after the Selina Robinson, minister of municipal affairs and housing, announced that 170 temporary supportive housing units will be coming to Nanaimo. However, because the units won’t be move-in ready until November, Robinson’s announcement made it clear that the province was expecting the city to allow Discontent City to remain in place beyond Oct. 12.
According to an e-mailed statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to the News Bulletin on Wednesday morning, the modular supportive housing units are currently being shipped from Fort St. John and will arrive in Nanaimo late next week.
The B.C. Supreme Court granted the City of Nanaimo an injunction against Discontent City, which was illegally formed in May. In his ruling, Justice Ronald Skolrood said the Nanaimo RCMP will have the ability to arrest anyone who remains on the property following Oct. 12.
McGrath called the city’s decision to go against the province and dismantle the camp a terrible idea for the entire community.
“The bottom line is there are 300-plus people down there and they are going to be in our streets in four days,” she said. “To displace all these people on the streets is a death sentence. They need to be together and they need to support each other and they shouldn’t be left out in the bush and told to go die because that is not fair.”
McGrath said the province’s decision to provide housing is “amazing” and a good start, adding that she is proud of those at the tent city for standing up and fighting for what they believe in. However, she also said people at Discontent City are scared because they don’t know what is going to happen.
“We can’t put these people out on the street,” McGrath said. “We can’t. We just can’t.”
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said Discontent City will be shut down in an organized and “pragmatic” way, but wouldn’t disclose when the shutdown will occur. He also rejected McGrath’s claims about Fry’s directions, calling Alliance Against Displacement an organization that has “no credibility.”
“Stay out of it,” McKay said about the group’s continuing involvement with Discontent City. “Let us deal with the people inside that camp and let them determine their own fate.”
McKay said he had not heard anything about the supportive housing arriving in Nanaimo next week. He also said the city has received nothing in writing that concretely confirms the province’s recent announcement.
“We have received nothing from the minister, nothing from B.C. Housing that we can go to the bank on,” McKay said. “There are lots of statements being made in the media but nothing that they’ve put pen to paper. There have been no MOUs or anything.”
McKay stressed that the city has a “court order” to shut down Discontent City and that members of Alliance Against Displacement need to understand that. He said the people living at Discontent City aren’t the only residents who need to be looked after.
“There are neighbours to that site [Discontent City] who are being vandalized and victimized,” McKay said. “It’s not just the people at tent city that we have to concern ourselves with; the neighbours have had enough.”
Meanwhile, Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP media spokesperson, said he could not disclose when Discontent City will be shut down. He said the police are in “constant” dialogue with individuals at the camp and that they are aware of the injunction, adding that when the decision is made to officially close the camp, the police will be responsible for ensuring that happens.
“If there are people that refuse to leave, then of course, our role would be to escort from [the property]. We may end up arresting people, we may not,” O’Brien said.
Fry could not be reached by press time.