Displaced tent city campers hold protest march, move to new location
CTV Vancouver Island
Published Friday, September 14, 2018 2:03PM PDT
Last Updated Monday, September 17, 2018 11:46AM PDT
A day after a tent city at Regina Park was shut down and cleared out, some displaced campers marched through Saanich before putting down stakes at a new location.
Dozens of people marched and chanted, holding signs like "Homes Not Hate" and "No Justice on Stolen Land," and prompting police to close several roads.
The protest was largely peaceful, though police did detain one man near the beginning of the protest who was reportedly wearing a mask and holding a baseball bat.
Organizers had previously said the march would end at city hall, but it actually moved to a location near Carey and Cadillac roads, across from Whole Foods in Saanich. They said campers had no intention of leaving the location Saturday morning.
The protest comes after the last occupants of the encampment dubbed "Camp Namegans" at Regina Park left the site Thursday night.
Some of those campers headed for nearby Rudd Park in Saanich, one of the 102 municipal parks in Saanich that permits overnight camping from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. under a city bylaw.
Campers were then permitted to re-enter Regina Park Friday to pick up the last of their belongings before it was sealed off to the public to undergo remediation work.
There were concerns from neighbours living near Rudd Park, where about a dozen or so tents popped up overnight, about the effect their presence could have on the area.
Neighbour Louise Williams said she woke up Friday to the sounds of shouting in the park where her children usually play.
"I one-hundred per cent recognize that there's a crisis, and I one-hundred per cent recognize that something needs to be done, but you get the half a dozen people who aren't following the rules, who are going through people's garbages, who are leaving a mess," she told CTV News.
She said the area isn't ideal for a tent city because of daycares, playgrounds and a popular soccer field in and around the park.
"The neighbours are not happy about this. This is the worst place they could've sent them," she said.
An organizer of the now-defunct tent city told reporters earlier in the day the roving protest would move to city hall to protest a lack of affordable housing for the homeless.
"We are meeting at five o'clock, we're marching to City Hall," Chrissy Brett said Friday morning. "Whether we spend a night there to make a statement and then move to one of those 100 parks, I think that there's really nothing on the table and we need to discuss as a community where we go."
Brett said those living at Regina Park had asked to have until Friday at 5 p.m. to take down their tents and clear out their belongings, despite a court-ordered injunction ruling that said they had to clear out by Tuesday night.
She said that became an issue at Rudd Park when someone shot fireworks at campers Thursday night after they had moved there.
"Our fire extinguishers and first aid kits were all behind locked gates last night," she said.
Police said they never agreed to a Friday extension, and campers were all informed they were in breach of the order for staying past the deadline.
Two people were arrested during the decampment process due to confrontations with police and other camp residents, according to police. Officers said Friday they'll remain on site at Regina Park until they're satisfied the park will not be reoccupied.
Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell said the tent city brought the issue of homelessness front and center in the city, but he hopes to avoid similar situations in the future.
"The Regina Park tent city hopefully will be the last one that we see in Saanich or any other community," he said. "I hope the focus of these organizers will be to apply more pressure on the province to put more into housing, and make sure the housing is coming, they're aware of."
He also promised neighbours living near Rudd Park that police would be enforcing the city's overnight camping bylaw, and telling any overnight campers to move on at 9 a.m. daily.
"I just want to assure everyone that our Parks department's going to keep the park clean, and our police department is going to keep the peace," Atwell said.
Police released new numbers related to calls for service at the encampment, which first sprang up in May, and the surrounding area.
There were 1,095 calls for service to the area near Regina Park between May and Sept. 11 this year, compared to just 650 calls for service during the same period last year, according to police.
"The largest increase in criminal activity in this area involved property crime and persons offences," police said in a news release.
Overall costs associated with policing the area aren't yet known.