Judge reserves decision on tent city injunction

Judge reserves decision on the province's application for an injunction to remove campers from tent city, asks for case management plan.

It was an emotional day in the Victoria courthouse, as a B.C. Supreme Court judge took the provincial government’s request for an injunction to get rid of tent city campers a step closer to trial.

During the final day of the three-day hearing on Tuesday, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson reserved his judgement on the province’s application for an injunction to remove campers from tent city and instead asked for a case management plan, pending civil trial.

“You’ve given me a lot to think about. I can’t promise to give you anything immediate,” Hinkson said.

The plan will be presented next Thursday at 4 p.m.

More than a dozen tent city campers and supporters pleading to Hinkson to deny the injunction that would evict the campers from the lawns of the courthouse on Burdett Avenue.

Many of the speakers said tent city has become their home and the people living there — some of society’s most marginalized — have become their family.

Donna Aumbus, a tent city resident, said having one community where people with similar issues can come together makes it easier for them to access mental health services.

“It’s not the place people make it out to be,” said resident Michael Bjornson. “It’s a healing place. It’s better transitional housing than most people can imagine . . . and it can lead to a better society for all of us.”

On Feb. 29, the province filed an application for an injunction to remove the campers, citing health and safety concerns and public nuisance.

“There is significant evidence of health risks,” said the province’s lawyer, adding the lawn has been used for bootcamp classes and picnics in the past. “The camp is not in keeping with the best use of the space.”

However, defence lawyer Cathie Boies Parker disagreed, saying there is no arguable case in public nuisance and no irreparable harm the province can demonstrate.

“Neighbours might consider it unsightly, but there is no harm,” she said during the hearing.

Boies Parker instead argued tent city has been beneficial to the city’s homeless population.

She said it has brought the homeless together in one area, making it easier to access mental health services. It’s also less of a burden on city workers who would normally have to clean up after the campers have left city parks at 7 a.m. in the morning, and has contributed to significant public savings.

She also argued the lawn is designated as a public park, citing a case in Abbotsford last year, in which Hinkson ruled homeless people are allowed to erect shelters in parks between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. because of a lack of accessible shelter space in the city.

“This land is being held for future development so we’re saying letting people stay there isn’t displacing anyone,” Boies Parker said after the hearing.

With the possibility of dozens of tent city campers being back into city parks, Victoria city council is looking into the impacts of outdoor sheltering on its resources and property.

Councillors Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday recently put forward a motion directing staff to provide a summary report on city resources devoted to outdoor sheltering in the past 12 months, including the location, frequency and nature of service calls, along with the number of employees, hours and estimated total costs associated with the service calls.

The recommendation also requests the Victoria Police Department and the province provide a summary of services devoted to sheltering during the same period.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman estimates it will cost roughly $350,000 to fix the courthouse lawn.