Campers at Nanaimo’s Discontent 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.
At a press conference at Discontent City on Friday afternoon, camp supporters and residents offered mixed messages around complying with the injunction.
“As of now, yeah,” said Amber McGrath, Discontent City advocate. “We have 21 days, so we’re going to figure out how to get 300-plus people and all their belongings out of a camp in 21 days … We’re not allowed on 1 Port Drive, but obviously the homeless population have to be somewhere. Where that’s going to be, I don’t know.”
Darcy Kory, member of the camp’s leadership council, said Discontent City is looking at contingencies.
“Options are open for everybody to make their own decision what it is they want to do, whether they want to adhere to the judge’s decision or … defy it,” he said.
McGrath called the decision to grant the injunction a travesty.
“Our government, our province, our country should be taking care of our homeless population much better than what they are,” she said.
Ross said the only possible alternative to tent city that’s been mentioned is parks.
“That’s not an acceptable solution,” he said. “No one wants homeless people in parkes, homeless people don’t want to be in parks. They want to be in affordable housing.”
Sophie Wendling, camp supporter, said the injunction only applies to 1 Port Drive and there may be other potential locations for a homeless camp.
“We’re going to be considering that,” she said. “So the fight is not over. The next step is for us to decide how to fight back and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Mayor Bill McKay said the city and its partners want to have a dialogue with individuals at the camp to determine what help is needed and what resources are available.
“We need to roll our sleeves up with all of our partners and provide the supports that are needed,” he said. “Now that we have a judge’s ruling, then let’s get on with it.”
He suggested that the judgment could lead to people in that part of the downtown feeling that they’re in a safer atmosphere.
“We have no concept of what those folks [at tent city] are going through down there on a daily basis. They’re in absolute desperate times and in desperate situations,” the mayor said. “The more help you give them, the better off their plight is and of course, if they don’t have to turn to crime to simply survive, then the whole community benefits from that.”
There were more than 60 affidavits 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.
More to come