NEWS BULLETIN file photo

NEWS BULLETIN file photo

B.C. tent city residents have three weeks to clear out: Supreme Court

Fire risk, criminal activity in neighbourhood cited as reasons for judgment

Campers at Nanaimo’s tent city have 21 days to vacate the property they’ve illegally occupied for months.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled against allowing Discontent City to remain on City of Nanaimo land, according to a recently released decision made by Justice Ronald Skolrood.

The ruling comes months after a two-day statutory injunction hearing took place at the Nanaimo courthouse in July, when lawyers for city argued that Discontent City be shut down and dismantled.

In his ruling, Skolrood said ongoing safety issues, a lack of leadership within the Discontent City and significant criminal activity in the neighbouring areas were three “key” factors that led to his decision. He said Discontent City can no longer be safely maintained or occupied and that the “oppositional attitudes” of some within the camp indicate that there is a “deteriorating leadership structure” within Discontent City.

“While it is apparent that efforts were made initially to establish a form of governance structure within the Tent City, the expanding size and changing composition of the Tent City has significantly undermined those efforts,” Skolrood said in his ruling.

When it came to increased crime, Skolrood said evidence from campers indicate that there is no way of regulating or controlling who is coming and going from Discontent City and that there is an existence of crime and violence.

“There is also evidence of criminal elements taking over portions of the Tent City which gives rise to very real concerns about the safety and well-being of residents,” Skolrood said.

Skolrood also noted that those key factors combined with “questionable strength” of arguments from Discontent City lawyer Noah Ross around Charter of Rights and Freedoms issues led to his decision. He said while Ross’s arguments had merit around the “benefits” that occur when a community of homeless people unite, those factors have existed in other tent city cases where courts have granted injunctions.

“I am further satisfied that Nanaimo has met the test for an interlocutory injunction requiring removal of the Tent City,” Skolrood said.

Should the occupants not vacate the property in 21 days, the city has the authority to remove all items including structures, tents, shelters, shopping carts, stoves and garbage from the property. The Nanaimo RCMP will have the ability to arrest anyone who remains on the property as well, according to the ruling.

There were more than 60 adifvatits filed in the case and Skolrood, in his ruling, explained that he simply considered those affidavits for what they were.

“I have simply considered them for what they are — evidence of the different views of community members about the Tent City, which again underscores the complex and multi-faceted nature of the homelessness issue,” Skolrood said.

Skolrood also felt that constitutional issues raised were too complex to deal with during a two-day hearing. He said Nanaimo’s petition should be referred to a trial list and considered the city’s application for a statutory injunction as an application for an interim injunction.

“I find support for proceeding in this fashion in the fact that of the many tent city cases that have come before this court in recent times, I am not aware of any that have proceeded by way of a summary petition directly to the final order stage. Rather, such cases are typically brought by way of an action with the relevant governmental authority applying for an interlocutory injunction,” he said.

Skolrood had previously rejected the city’s attempt to obtain a police enforcement order at Discontent City. The city had sought the enforcement order after the occupants refused to comply with a court-imposed provincial fire safety order that had been issued by Skolrood at the conclusion of the injunction hearing.

A second fire safety order has since been issued against Discontent City.

Discontent City was established in May after a small group of protesters broke into the property and established a small camp as part of an effort to raise awareness about the plight homeless people. Since its establishment, the campsite’s population has ballooned to about 300 occupants. There have been also been overdose deaths, stabbings, an explosion and claims by Nanaimo RCMP of increased criminal activity in the neighbourhood around Port Drive. In August, the Soldiers of Odin Vancouver Island marched to the gates of the site where they were met by a large group of Discontent City supporters and concerned residents.

More to come

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