A local park may have served as an outdoor crystal-meth cooking lab, charges Saanich has vigorously denied.
The public heard the claim Monday, when Dorothy Chambers with the Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park accused Saanich of not doing enough to enforce a new bylaw aimed to deter squatting in local parks.
“Last Thursday, a community member came across what appears to be, I’m told, a crystal meth cooking lab in Cuthbert Holmes Park,” said Chambers in a presentation to council.
To buttress this claim, Chambers presented a picture of what she said was a 20-litre-container of “stolen” industrial strength chlorine. The site where the community member discovered this item last week also included acetone, a bucket of hydrochloric acid and a five-gallon jug of cooking oil, according to Chambers.
“It’s in a camp [of homeless people] and it is surrounded by about half a dozen open fire pits with cook stove apparatus,” said Chambers in relaying this second-hand-information.
The Saanich News could not independently confirm the previous presence of these items, nor the claim that individuals living in the camp had used these items as part of an operation producing illegal drugs.
According to Chambers, Saanich Police were not aware of the chemicals.
“I learned today in conversations with [Saanich Police] Chief Bob Downie and other police that they were not informed about all these stolen chemicals that were in the park and the crystal meth lab,” she said. “These are highly flammable, combustible, deadly chemicals that were being cooked in Cuthbert Holmes Park, where the children come through from school every day. The whole place smells like acetone.”
According to Chambers, Saanich parks staff removed the items, but without the proper precautions.
If these chemicals were in a home, the neighbourhood would have been evacuated and a Hazmat team would have cleaned up the site, she said, adding that she spent Monday talking to provincial and federal officials in trying to assess potential effects.
“No one really knows the extent of the damage that these chemicals caused,” said Chambers, who expressed deep concerns about the potential effects of the chemicals on the nearby Colquitz River, a fish-bearing river.
“If any of those chemicals spilled, we will have nothing for 10 years,” she said.
Megan Catalano said Saanich Parks received notice of the chemical containers on May 4 and the smell of acetone.
Four park staff members immediately responded and assessed the situation. They found two containers, one found to be cooking oil, the other labelled Hypochlor 12, commonly know as bleach.
“Both containers were sealed with lids and were located on the side of a trail well away from the river and not in a camp,” she said.
Staff also found no physical evidence of a spill or contamination to the area of any kind, she added.
“Parks staff removed the containers from the park for the safety of the environment, which were properly disposed of at the Hartland facility,” she said. “Bleach does not require a hazmat team to transport.”
According to Saanich Police drug experts, cooking oil and bleach are not ingredients used in the production of methamphetamine, and no evidence of a “meth lab” could be found in the park, she said.
“Parks staff and [Sannich Police] are working together to effectively manage and implement the amended parks bylaw,” she said.
The presentation from Chambers came just two weeks after council ratified a new bylaw designed to deter squatting. It authorizes the “seizure, removal and disposition of chattels” – personal possessions – from Saanich parks like Cuthbert Holmes.
While the bylaw came into effect April 23, Chambers said Saanich has not done enough to advertise it and enforce it.
To this end, Chambers described an incident Monday during which a camper named Kevin acted aggressively towards her, yelling at her and following her into an isolated part of the park.
Concerned for her safety, Chambers called for police. According to her, officers responding to the scene “had absolutely no idea” about the chattel removal bylaw being in effect.
“There is no follow up, there is no response,” said Chambers in response to comments from Mayor Richard Atwell, who had said that the number of campers in the park had gone down to four from 10.
While Atwell said he was not sure what more Saanich could have done in a preventative capacity, he promised to touch base with various actors, including Saanich Police.