An injunction hearing started Friday with lawyers for the province arguing the camp should be shut down, but residents say there’s nowhere else for them to go
A First Nations drummer stood outside the Victoria Law Courts Friday morning while inside, a hearing to determine if homeless campers should be forced off the land next door, got underway.
The courtroom was packed, mostly with tent city residents and their supporters.
It was an unusual scene as those residents would occasionally stand and speak during proceedings, asking questions and responding to the Crown lawyer’s submissions.
Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson allowed the campers to speak when they wanted and then thanked them for their statements.
One of the people who spoke was a tent city resident that goes by the name “Beacon.”
“We’re not heard properly, ever, so for us to be given a chance to sit there and be a part of it, in front of the judge instead of behind bars or behind plastic, we have a chance to say what we really feel,” he said.
“I think we’re showing everyone what we are worth as individuals in a humane society that may be forgotten,” said camper Kyle Wright who also spoke out in court.
Lawyers for the province spent the first day of the hearing outlining why an injunction should be granted.
They cited health and safety concerns, including open drug use, and air pollution caused by the smoke from tent city’s sacred fire.
They also argued the camp is a public nuisance that has created serious problems for the surrounding neighbourhood.
“It’s been hell,” said Peter Kerr who owns an apartment building across the street from tent city.
“The yelling, the screaming, the theft, the break and enters, defecation, urination, needles stuck in tires in our parking lot, just general harassment, and intimidation,” he said.
But tent city supporters said breaking up the camp isn’t going to improve safety for anyone.
“Is public interest and the cause of safety served by displacing one central camp that has built that community around themselves into 20 separate encampments in the doorways and alleyways and the parks of Victoria?” questioned Stephen Portman with Together Against Poverty Society.
And while the province has created 128 new shelter spaces in the past few months, campers say it’s not enough.
“There’s no room in Mount Edwards, there’s no more room at View Royal, they don’t have enough staff. My Place is closing down, all the temporary shelters are closing down, so there’s nowhere to go,” said former tent city resident Ayam Abraxas, who recently moved to the Mount Edwards transitional housing.
The injunction hearing is scheduled for three days.
Chief Justice Hinkson made it clear if he decides to grant an injunction, he will expect Victoria Police to enforce it.