Injunction hearing for Saanich tent city gets underway with focus on fire safety

Injunction hearing for Saanich tent city gets underway with focus on fire safety

WATCH: The District of Saanich and Province of B.C. are in Supreme Court asking for an injunction to have Regina Park tent city shut down. April Lawrence was there.

Lawyers for the District of Saanich, the Province of B.C., and Regina Park tent city residents were in B.C. Supreme Court Monday for the start of an injunction hearing scheduled to take three days.

The proceedings began with the tent city residents’ lawyer, John Heaney, cross-examining Saanich Fire Chief Mike Burgess.

Heaney questioned Burgess repeatedly about why the municipality hasn’t provided camp residents with any fire extinguishers, water, or fire suppression training in the event a fire does break out — something camp organizers have requested in writing.

Burgess argued that the best way to maintain fire safety in the encampment is for residents to abide by 11 fire orders that have been previously been issued. The orders include proper egress around each tent, the use of non-flammable tarps, and no cooking appliances in covered areas.

He said without complying with those orders there remains a high risk of catastrophic fire at the site that could cause serious injury or death, adding that a fire extinguisher would have very little impact.

During a break in the proceedings, supporters and residents from three tent cities, Saanich, Nanaimo and Maple Ridge, gathered outside the Victoria Law Courts to urge politicians to stop taking homeless campers to court.

“This is a concerted effort between municipalities and the Province of B.C. to try to destroy homeless people’s only attempts to survive,” said Ivan Drury with the Alliance Against Displacement in Maple Ridge.

Saanich camp organizer Chrissy Brett told the media residents are trying their best to mitigate fire risk at Regina Park but argued that full compliance is impossible to achieve. She questioned why regular members of the public could receive fire extinguisher training through the Saanich Fire Dept. but tent city residents were refused.

She said the homeless residents of all three tent cities are safer together than on the streets or even in supportive housing.

“I would say that definitely, we’re concerned about fire safety but I think overall life safety is something that our encampments are more concerned about is keeping people alive,” she said.

There are roughly 110 people currently residing in 100 tents at the Regina Park encampment residents call Camp Namegans. The encampment was established in early May.

The injunction hearing is scheduled for three days.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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