Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell said fire safety and financial concerns — not the political calendar including this year’s municipal election in less than three months — shaped Saanich’s decision to file an injunction against Camp Namegans, the official name of the tent city at Regina Park.
While Atwell expects the camp to be a subject of electoral discussions, Saanich did not file the injunction with the municipal election in mind.
“We did this during the height of fire season,” he said. “No, it’s not a political matter. It’s a safety matter.”
Saanich has been working with residents in the camp since it had first sprung up in May, he said. Because Saanich cannot forcibly remove residents and because residents have not voluntarily complied with various fire safety orders and bylaws, Saanich has now asked a court for some guidance, said Atwell.
“We are not getting voluntary compliance,” he said. “We are getting resistance.”
While Saanich’s injunction filed Monday in British Columbia Supreme Court calls on almost 100 camp residents to immediately vacate Regina Park to “allow for fire risks and other hazards in the park to be addressed,” they will not move at least until the week of August 13, when authorities have scheduled a hearing to consider the request, likely the first of several.
“I hope we are successful, because we are at the limit to manage this situation,” said Atwell.
While Atwell acknowledged some residents would have preferred Saanich to have filed an injunction earlier, he said now is also the time to restore “some balance” to the neighbourhood, a point that appears prominently in Saanich’s release announcing the injunction.
“The encampment has and continues to negatively impact on the local residential and business community,” it reads. At the same time, it continues to remain unsafe for the occupants, first responders and others who may visit the park, it reads.
Atwell also reiterated the point that the camp has placed what Saanich has called an “enormous burden” on financial resources, including required support from police, fire, and parks staff. According to a staff report, Saanich may spend up to $950,000 on additional costs connected to the camp.
Many anticipated Saanich’s move after the municipality and the provincial government had issued three earlier notices, with two coming from Saanich. It posted a “notice to vacate” on June 8 and a “notice to cease occupation” on July 12.
Saanich said the camp residents may use 102 of Saanich’s 172 parks for temporary overnight shelter from the hours of 7 p.m. to 9 a.m., including Regina Park.
Saanich also said that it continues to assist the provincial government by exploring options for social housing, but lacks the means to fund or develop new social housing on its own.
“Responsibility for social housing, mental health care and treatment and support for addictions rests with the province, and Saanich will continue to support the province in its efforts to invest in solutions to these issues,” it reads.
Ashley Mollison, a community organizer, who has been working with the camp, declined to comment on the filing Tuesday morning until a press conference scheduled for tomorrow morning.
#Nanaimo filed an injunction against DisconTent City. #Saanich is now getting ready to do the same. In 2016, the court injunction against the Victoria courthouse lawn tent city came close to 1M in legal fees. Fighting tent cities is NOT the solution. @aimollison #saanichnews
— Marilou Gagnon RNPhD (@mlgagnon_XVII) July 23, 2018
Tuesday’s move, however, did not come as surprise. Camp organizer Chrissy Brett and others had predicted it, and Marilou Gagnon, who has been working with the camp, issued a preemptive tweet earlier this week, in which she questioned Saanich’s direction.
Among other points, she raised the potential cost of the move.
“In 2016, the court injunction against the Victoria courthouse lawn tent city came close to [$1 million] in legal fees,” she tweeted.
Atwell said he could not say how much money that the District has budgeted for embarking down this legal path.
“It’s the cost of doing business,” he said.