Questions about personal privacy have joined a host of legal and political questions as the dispute between the District of Saanich and residents of the homeless camp at Regina Park is shifting towards the courts.
Leaders, residents and supporters of the homeless camp at Regina Park (Camp Namegans) stood in a searing late morning sun Wednesday amongst tents and other make-shift facilities (including a temporary barber shop) to denounce Saanich’s decision to seek an injunction against the camp, which now houses close to 100 people. The comments came as a surveillance camera has been set up to provide a live feed to the video platform Youtube.
Ashley Mollison, a community organizer with the Alliance against Displacement, denounced Saanich’s decision as a “tried but failed” method to deal with homelessness, which has reached a crisis with some 1,500 individuals considered homeless in Victoria.
A hearing in British Columbia Supreme Court scheduled for the week of Aug. 13 will hear Saanich’s request for an injunction against the camp.
“I hope we are successful, because we are at the limit to manage this situation,” said Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell.
The municipality said in a release that “it has been unable to successful manage life safety in the park due to ongoing fire hazards, and the encampment remains unsafe for the occupants, first responders and others who may visit the park.”
Atwell also reiterated the point that the camp has placed what Saanich has called an “enormous burden” on financial resources, including required support from police, fire and parks staff. According to a staff report, Saanich may spend up to $950,000 on additional costs connected to the camp.
Mollison said Saanich has been disingenuous in its dealings. Instead of working towards a solution, the municipality has been using the last three months to collect evidence against the camp, she said.
Atwell said Saanich lacks the resources to provide housing for camp residents, adding Saanich has been working with the provincial government to find alternative housing.
Media gathered at the park Wednesday heard from at least three residents, each of whom said the camp has afforded them the ability to get their lives together after they had lost their previous homes.
Preparations for Wednesday’s press conference and portions of it happened under the eye of a surveillance camera broadcasting live on the online video platform Youtube.
Victoria Drains made the feed publicly available on July 20, one day after Bullet Security had installed it, according to Scott Sheldrake, a company representative.
“I guess they had quite a few break-ins in the employee’s parking lot [next to the camp], and they also found a lot of needles,” he said.
Sheldrake declined to comment on the ethics and privacy implications of the business’ decision to live-broadcast images of the camp.
“We are just security contractors,” he said. “We are not ethics professors.”
Sgt. Jereme Leslie of the Saanich Police said police are aware of the camera. “There is nothing criminal about installing a security camera,” he said. Saanich Police have also not used the feed to track the camp and its residents, he said.
The office overseeing the information and privacy practices of public bodies and private organizations is aware of the camera, but declined to comment on its legality, because it did not wish to appear to prejudge any future investigations.
“We are aware of it,” said Erin Beattie, director of communication, for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia.
Mollison was less reserved in her judgment.
“By providing a live stream of Camp Namegans on the Internet, it’s clear that their intentions are voyeuristic,” she said. “It’s an extreme violation of privacy, and honestly, just creepy.”
The owner of the company did not return a phone call seeking comment, and as of Thursday morning the feed remains publicly unavailable after going dark — at least to the public — Wednesday afternoon.
Sheldrake said Wednesday afternoon that the owner had shut down the feed for the press conference.