City of Nanaimo application for tent city enforcement order denied


WATCH: A Supreme Court justice has denied a City of Nanaimo application for an enforcement order at its tent city. The order would have allowed police the power to ensure campers are complying with the court’s previously-issued fire safety orders. Kendall Hanson explains.

Since it started nearly three months ago, Nanaimo’s Discontent City has swelled with 171 tents and structures now on site.

The city says it’s been concerned about fire safety at the camp from the start and last month, B.C.’s Supreme Court issued several interim fire safety orders while it awaits a decision on the city’s application for an injunction.

But the city says the campers haven’t been complying and so it was seeking a new order that would give police the go-ahead to go in and enforce the orders.

On Monday afternoon, a Supreme Court justice denied that request.

“Very pleased that the judge recognized that the types of violations we’re seeing at camp are not the types of violations that should be responded to by the police coming and arresting people,” said Noah Ross, a lawyer for those living at DisconTent City.

The justice was satisfied the campers are making efforts to comply with the order.

He also said at other tent cities, BC Housing has stepped in to supply fire resistant tarps, something that could happen in Nanaimo.

He said arresting someone for refusing to properly butt out a cigarette or having a tarp on their tent seemed excessive.

“Very pleased,” said Melissa Burkhart, a tent city resident. “I’m grateful that the judge has chosen to humanize us and look at us as people and not just a problem that needs to be cleaned up and they’re actually giving us the appropriate time to access the resources that have been offered to us.”

The city had a very different take on Monday’s outcome.

“As a city, we’re disappointed as its going to hinder our abilities to keep these occupants safe,” said Karen Fire, Chief of Nanaimo Fire Rescue. “Fire risk is still a huge priority and it was never our intention to use the fire order as an evacuation of the tent site. It was really about keeping those occupants safe.”

The city says it was called to one fire at tent city this past week and it knows of other fire starts here that went unreported.

It all means tent city won’t be going anywhere fast. The city still hopes it will see greater compliance with the fire safety orders. The judge says he expects compliance and whether the campers obey the orders or not will factor into future court decisions.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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