B.C.’s top court has ruled that people experiencing homelessness cannot take up shelter at Beacon Hill Park due to a long-standing trust agreement held by the City of Victoria.
In a judgement released Thursday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Punnett ruled that the terms of that trust prohibit sheltering at Beacon Hill Park. The park has been held in trust by the City of Victoria after receiving a Crown grant from the province in 1882.
The ruling comes nearly one year after the city asked the courts to clarify whether Beacon Hill can be used by homeless people for temporary sheltering, following a rise in overnight sheltering at the park.
Lisa Helps, mayor of Victoria, says she is glad to have a definitive answer to the question.
“The city asked a very simple question: ‘Does the trust allow for sheltering in Beacon Hill Park’ and the court answered the question really clearly, no that the trust does not allow for sheltering so it’s pretty straightforward,” Helps said, noting the city took the steps it did during the pandemic to help people facing homelessness.
“We were concerned about the needs of people sheltering outdoors with literally nowhere to go. Thankfully the province stepped in and there are very few people sheltering outside now, and the questions been resolved once and for all.”
The 1882 Crown grant and the Public Parks Act of 1876 do not provide clear guidelines on what uses are permitted for Beacon Hill Park. However, they do make it clear that Beacon Hill must be maintained and preserved by the city as a public park or “pleasure ground.”
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that under the constitution, a person can erect overnight shelters in public parks, provided there is no adequate indoor shelter space available.