A woman known to advocate for better treatment of homeless along Surrey’s 135A Street says she’s “disgusted” and “heartbroken” after watching bylaw and/or RCMP officers cut down a canopy and throw it in a garbage truck this morning.
“(The homeless) weren’t moving fast enough for the police and bylaws so they took their new-ish shelter and sliced it up in front of them and threw it in the back of a trash compactor while they begged for them not to,” wrote Erin Schulte in a Facebook post along with video showing part of the incident.
“Very, very upsetting to watch,” she added.
Street cleaning was happening along the road this morning, as it does weekly, where the homeless must move their tents and belongings to another area while cleaning is done.
Schulte said she has no issue with the cleaning, and in fact says it’s necessary, but takes issue with the officers’ actions.
“Disgusted in their behaviour this morning,” she told the Now-Leader. “I watched them use blades and chop it and watched the truck squash it to death. They did it right in front of them.”
After the incident Schulte said bylaw staff and RCMP told her to get in her car and “get off the Strip.”
But the city says there’s more to the story.
Jas Rehal, Surrey’s manager of public safety operations, reviewed the footage and talked with the officers shown in the video. He said the video “only tells a part of what happened.”
According to Rehal the canopy in the video was left unattended and officers canvassed the area and “no one took ownership of it.”
“Erin did tell our officers she knows who owns it but she could not bring anyone forward,” Rehal added. “Since the beginning of the clean up and until now, officers have not had anyone claim ownership of it. It was abandoned in the area.”
Rehal said the canopy has been thrown out, and added that it was “not fire resistant and those are not permitted in the area due to fire risk.”
Schulte told the Now-Leader it’s blatantly false that she commented on who may or may not have owned the canopy.
“This was not said at all,” she insisted. “I had no words about not knowing who owned it. They were right there. I heard them begging for them not to take it.
“It was brand new,” Schulte added. “Look at it — 200 homeless would not have taken an abandoned tent? Of course someone would. Nothing stays abandoned that can be used.”
For its part, Surrey RCMP responded to a request for comment on its involvement in the incident.
“Members are usually present during the clean up which routinely takes place on 135A Street,” said Corporal Elenore Sturko in a statement. “The clean up is undertaken in the interest of health and safety in the area. The canopy which can be seen in the video was deemed to be abandoned by city bylaw officers and was set for disposal.”
Sturko said bylaw officers were “having trouble collapsing the structure so an RCMP officer assisted bylaw to cut the cloth from the top which allowed the canopy to be collapsed and disposed of.”