A spokesperson for the homeless camp near Uptown has signalled an unspecified amount of resistance to the eviction notice that Saanich issued Friday in raising the prospect of a lengthy standoff.
Chrissy Brett said the group will not leave Regina Park until “any peaceful or not so peaceful agreement for us to leave has been reached.”
The nature of that agreement is up to the authorities, including Saanich and the provincial government, she said, in calling on both jurisdictions to do more to improve housing in Saanich.
“I’m not at all prepared to be violent, but similar to Gustafsen Lake, there are those here who are willing to stand our ground,” she said.
Security forces including Canadian Armed Forces and a group of land occupiers – most but not all Aboriginal Canadians – confronted each other at Gustafsen Lake in the interior of British Columbia for almost a month.
During that standoff, Aboriginal protesters framed resistance in religious terms, and Brett said the camp is part and parcel of a religious ceremony on unceded Indigenous territory.
She said the group could prepare a counter notice to the municipality. It would claim that the municipality has trespassed on Aboriginal land in violation of the Royal Proclamation of 1763.
This said, Brett said the group plans to accept the “reasonable parts” of the received notices, while negotiating the other parts. Brett said the camp has benefited individuals who do not fit into traditional categories of housing available to individuals dealing with homelessness and other related issues. So what is the likelihood that the group will pack up in the near future? “Probably not that likely,” she said.
Saanich issued its eviction notice to the camp Friday. “Your immediate compliance with this Notice to Vacate is expected,” reads the notice, signed by Paul Thorkelsson, chief administrative officer. A separate but related notice from the Saanich Fire Department reads, in part, that the department expects campers will “comply” with the eviction note, noting that the camp “has resulted in the presence of numerous fire hazards.”
Mayor Richard Atwell said Saanich has issued the eviction notice because Regina Park is not an appropriate place for people to establish permanent housing. “This [camp] is a huge burden on the neighbourhood,” he said, while also pointing to the notice from the fire department.
The longer the camp exists in its current form, the greater the risks and costs to the public, he said.
Saanich, he said, cannot afford to spend $3 million on cleaning up the site, in alluding to the final clean up cost of the tent city that had sprung up in Victoria.
But Atwell also noted that the eviction notice recognizes the legal right of homeless individuals to camp.
“In accordance with the legal rights that have been recognized by the courts in British Columbia, a person experiencing homelessness is permitted, when necessary, to erect a temporary overnight shelter in a Saanich park, between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.,” it reads. “Such temporary overnight shelter, and any personal possessions associated with it, must be removed by 9 a.m. the following morning, and such personal possessions cannot be stored or abandoned in a Saanich park.”
Saanich, in other words, allows homeless individuals to camp during those hours, but expects them to move on, a proposition that might be difficult to enforce. But Saanich will nonetheless attempt it. Atwell said authorities have already gone tent to tent to identify individuals who are not genuinely homeless.
“If you have a place to go, please go,” he said.
The continued presence of people in the camp who are not homeless poses not only a fire hazard, but also undermines the rights of genuinely homeless people to camp, he said.
Efforts to find a permanent solution continue, he added, pointing to his recent meeting with local MLA Rob Fleming, who has encouraged Saanich to apply for modular housing. Saanich council will also hold a special meeting on June 21 to discuss the issue in additional detail.
When asked about Brett’s comments, Atwell expressed concern about her rhetoric, noting that Saanich Police have been very “compassionate” so far. The resolution of this issue requires everybody’s co-operation, he said.
“She [Brett] has our attention,” he said.