The District of Saanich has issued an order to effectively shut down a tent city that has been growing in size since it first sprang up in May.

Homeless campers at Regina Park, a section of land running along the Trans-Canada Highway, were served with cease occupation notices Thursday morning, according to police.

The order comes after Saanich amended its parks bylaws at a meeting on Monday and includes the following requirements:

  • People experiencing homelessness may take temporary overnight refuge in Regina Park and erect and occupy a temporary shelter within Regina Park between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.
  • They may otherwise visit Regina Park between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
  • They must not occupy or remain in Regina Park on a continuous basis.
  • They must not leave their personal belongings in Regina Park on a continuous basis.

Campers were expected to immediately comply with the order, but even Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell said he didn't expect people to leave come Friday morning.

"We're asking for people to pack up their things and clear out the park," said Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell. "The parks bylaw and the court ruling says you're allowed to stay in certain parks overnight if there are no shelter spaces, so we're asking for this process to begin. I can't say at what time our patience will run out."

Some residents of the camp said they were weren't sure whether they would immediately vacate.

"I'm not entirely sure what my plan is regarding the housing issue," said Sean, a camp resident who declined to give his last name. "It's hard to make a plan when you don't know what's happening from day to day and everything changes from day to day."

Camp organizer Chrissy Brett said she thinks those occupying the land should be able to make that decision on their own.

"I can't see how a municipality could be enforcing their bylaws on provincial or federal land," said Brett, who added that she planned on staying put.

But when B.C. Premier John Horgan was asked about the Saanich encampment earlier this week, he said that it fell on municipal land.

"You'll recall that the crisis of the [Victoria] courthouse tent city was made easier because it was on provincial land," Horgan told a crowd at an event in Nanaimo on Monday. "The park in question in Saanich is on municipal land."

A notice to vacate was previously issued to campers on June 8, according to the district. A fire inspection was carried out June 15, and on July 9, firefighters attempting to enforce the order were allegedly obstructed by Brett.

Police also alleged Brett set off an air horn in one firefighter's ear, and she was taken into custody.

The District of Saanich says the new rules are in line with court decisions surrounding overnight sheltering in parks.