Victoria ready to take ‘rapid action’ on Centennial Square encampment, says mayor

WatchA solution may be coming to deal with the encampment at Centennial Park. But a ban on 24/7 camping in the city isn't likely.

A growing crime crisis in downtown Victoria has resulted in a massive police round-up.

In an undercover bust this month, Victoria police found a drug trafficking operation at Centennial Square.  Tents weren’t being used to live in, but to sell drugs out of.

Police say some drug dealers would commute in from other parts of the city and use tents on a rotational basis, to give the illusion of people living there. Instead they would sell drugs like meth, cocaine, and fentanyl, police said.

Since the Centennial Square encampment popped up, Victoria Police have responded to a number of stabbings, serious assaults, and weapons calls.

“This was a level of violence a level of escalation which was unacceptable to us, which is why we conducted our project,” said Const. Cam MacIntyre, public affairs officer for Victoria police.

So far, 10 people have now been arrested in connection with Centennial Square’s drug trafficking ring. Seven more are wanted with a warrant.

“These people will be released with conditions not to return to Centennial Square. It’s our hope that this will improve the situation there, that has not been working,” said MacIntyre.

And now, Victoria city council agrees that the status quo is unsustainable.

“We know the current situation isn’t working for anyone,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

“It’s become unmanageable.”

On Thursday, in a closed-door meeting, Victoria’s city council was briefed by a lawyer on the city’s legal authority on camping in the core.

“The current situation isn’t working. If we’re going to have people camping in public parks because they have nowhere else to go, it needs to be better managed,” said Helps, who says 24/7 camping is likely to stay as long as the provincial state of emergency is in place.

“Centennial Square, I think we can all see especially with the work police have done, that there is a special situation there, that needs special, quick attention,” added Helps.

With solutions for Centennial Park the priority, city staff are now preparing a report on how the city should deal with encampments, to be published either Friday or Monday. Council will debate the findings during their council meeting next week, before finding a way forward.

Even still, city councillor Geoff Young is warning nothing will change soon.

“Given the extent of which people are now dug in, entrenched in this daytime camping, I suspect we may be back to injunctions and so forth,” said Young.

“We saw how hard it was to unwind the courthouse campground.”

In the meantime, the tents at Centennial Square will remain in place, under the watchful eye of the police.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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