The District of Saanich is asking the B.C. Supreme Court for an injunction to shut down the tent city at Regina Park.
In a release on Monday, the district said it had filed a lawsuit to ask for an injunction that would require the tent city, which has been named Camp Namegans by its residents, to be immediately vacated to allow for fire risks and other hazards in the park to be addressed. The injunction would also require park use be limited to align with Saanich bylaws.
According to the district, continuous occupation of the park goes against bylaws, negatively impacts local residents and the business community, and has placed a burden on Saanich’s financial resources, including police, fire and parks department.
The district said they are unable to manage safety in the park due to ongoing fire hazards. They also said the occupants are not complying with fire orders. The occupants of the tent city were given a notice to vacate on June 8 and a notice to cease occupation on July 12. The July 12 notice was issued after the district amended its Parks Management and Control Bylaw, following BC Supreme Court rulings on temporary overnight sheltering in parks.
Of the 172 Saanich parks, 102 may be used for temporary overnight sheltering from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m., including Regina Park. The sheltering is restricted in environmentally-sensitive areas, playgrounds, sports fields, beaches and water parks. There is a district hygiene station with washrooms, showers and storage at municipal hall.
The district said it also has support services for those who need temporary shelter.
“Saanich continues to assist the provincial government by exploring options for social housing, but is not in a position to fund or develop new social housing on its own,” the district said in a release.
“Responsibility for social housing, mental health care and treatment and support for addictions rests with the province, and Saanich will continue to support the province in its efforts to invest in solutions to these issues.”
A court hearing for the injunction is scheduled for the week of Aug. 13. Saanich fire and parks department, along with Saanich police, will continue visiting the site regularly to address fire and safety risks.
The Alliance Against Displacement and Chrissy Brett, who helped establish the Regina Park tent city, issued a statement after the announcement about the court hearing.
“For two months, the Indigenous-led tent city has provided a home, community, and a place for healing for over 90 Indigenous and non-Indigenous homeless people who were previously dispersed across Saanich and Victoria,” the statement read.
“Homeless people have found home at Camp Namegans. Much like tent cities across the province, Camp Namegans residents stay in the tent city because it is safer than being alone on the streets. City bylaws that limit camping to nighttime hours force homeless people into cycles of daily displacement where they suffer police and bylaw harassment and theft of their belongings, which exacerbates their physical, mental, and emotional stress.”
Brett said Camp Namegans is a sanctuary for homeless Indigenous people.
“I am standing on my Indigenous right to use land for cultural ceremony,” she said.
“Much like Canada recognizes the churches’ right to provide religious sanctuary, Indigenous people should have the same right to provide political sanctuary for those without homes.”