The legal fate of the homeless camp in Regina Park known as Camp Namegans will likely remain up in the air for several more days as a B.C. Supreme Court hearing is expected to wrap up Friday.
Ashley Mollison with the Alliance Against Displacement does not expect a ruling Friday following the conclusion of testimony from the various parties, suggesting the judge will render a verdict sometime in September.
According to various sources, including Mollison, Saanich plans to disperse the campers for two to three weeks during which staff would remove hazardous materials, mow the lawn, and put down eight to 12 inches of wood chips.
Once deemed fire safe, Saanich would then allow residents to seek overnight shelter, while prohibiting camping during the day.
Camp leader Chrissy Brett has questioned this plan.
“We are concerned that the wood chips would be a greater fire risk than the considerably smaller amount of combustible material that is currently at Regina Park,” she said.
Camp leaders have also argued that dispersing the camp residents would expose them to greater dangers, a claim that Saanich’s lawyer Jeff Locke challenged. He also pointed out that Saanich has worked with the province to provide housing.
Both the District of Saanich and the Province of British Columbia have asked the court to shut down the camp near Uptown along the Trans-Canada Highway. Organizers say more than 100 people now live in the camp, which has been the subject of considerable public interest and controversy.
Various reports of testimony so far have left the impression of Saanich being on the defensive and at times unsure about its rationale for shutting down the camp.
While Saanich Fire Chief Mike Burgess warned of a “catastrophic” fire if the camp were to remain in its current form, Saanich’s lawyer said the municipality’s application for an injunction is not about fire safety per se.
Locke instead spoke about upholding the “dignity” of “constitutional bylaws,” including presumably the recently passed prohibition against overnight camping and other measures.
According to reports, Locke also emphasized that Saanich’s request for an injunction should not be read as evidence of discrimination or bias against the residents in countering the narrative from camp leaders that the injunction is part and parcel of a larger co-ordinated efforts with other communities in Nanaimo and Maple Ridge to criminalize homelessness.
Locke also noted that Saanich has set up portable toilets at the park and erected a hygiene facility with showers and washrooms at Municipal Hall.
Saanich officials and representatives made their case during the first three days of testimony. Submissions from the provincial government and camp leaders followed.