Demonstrators gather at the BC Legislature in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on Feb. 7. (Black Press Media file photo)

Demonstrators gather at the BC Legislature in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on Feb. 7. (Black Press Media file photo)

Looking back at the top stories in Victoria for 2020

Five stories that captured the interest of Victoria News readers over the past year

While COVID-19 dominated the headlines around the world in 2020, that wasn’t the only story to pique the interest of Victoria News readers. Here are some of our favourite articles that appeared in the Victoria News this year.

Protesters pack up week-long camp outside BC Legislature

The lawns of the BC Legislature look pristine again after hundreds of demonstrators packed up after nearly a week-long camp.

People had been gathering on the steps of the legislature since Feb. 6 in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are pushing against the installation of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline on land they claim as unceded territory.

While at night the group of people diminished to several dozen, during the day crowds swelled into the hundreds.

Things got heated as MLAs and members of the press attempted to enter the building to attend the throne speech. People were blocked and many were verbally assaulted. Victoria police received reports of alleged physical assault during the day as well. Demonstrators also claimed to have been assaulted by police or security personnel.

While initially protesters told Black Press Media that the would stay on the steps “as long as necessary,” the group chose to pack up and depart on Feb. 11.

What life is like inside Victoria hospitals two months into pandemic

Kendra Bronson, a respiratory therapist at the Royal Jubilee Hospital, hasn’t hugged her husband in over two months.

Since the pandemic hit, life has changed for Bronson. Her husband lives out of their guest room, does the grocery shopping and runs all the errands that need to be done.

In the first weeks of COVID-19 arriving on the Island, Bronson had just gotten back from vacation herself. After isolating, she was back at work in the intensive care unit when the hospital had its first ventilated patient with the virus.

For the highest risk procedures, Bronson says she would wear a gown, two pairs of gloves, a bonnet, a hood, a face shield and a respirator. She says the added precautions can get pretty claustrophobic and make it hard to communicate with her coworkers and the patients.

Dr. Omar Ahmad, department head of emergency and critical care medicine for Island Health, says the number of emergency room visit were down at first, but then began to increase. He describes the first weeks of the pandemic in the hospital as “kind of eerie.”

“We were all sort of wondering where are all these patients,” he says. “People still get infections, people still get heart attacks, people still have strokes, so where were all these people?”

According to Ahmad, those types of patients are starting to appear again, after a 40 per cent decrease in emergency room visits over the first four months of 2020 compared to the same time last year.

Dallas Road is not an RV park: Residents fed up with overnight parking

On Dallas Road, a picturesque backdrop of rolling waves, dense natural brush and the mountainous Washington state skyline is contrasted by what many call a visual representation of the city’s housing crisis: RVs, campers and vans parked in rows.

Most of them come and go, but in a city recently ranked the 16th least affordable in the world by the Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, alternative forms of living are not uncommon.

Dallas Road resident Janice Williams has been living near the popular public park for 11 years. She says it’s changed before her eyes, with more garbage, waste and in some cases, even human feces left behind. It’s not possible to point to any one culprit, but Williams is fed up with the area being “used and abused by people who are camping overnight.” Last January, she started an online petition titled ‘Limit Abuse of Dallas Road Parking.’ A day after she posted it, more than 70 people had signed.

“It’s not because we lack compassion for people who can’t afford housing in our area, we understand that that’s a problem, but this isn’t an RV park. It doesn’t have the facilities for it, and ultimately there’s health and safety risks to the neighbourhood. People have had pets ingest things and kids play in that park.”

Van and RV-dwellers parked along Dallas Road started a petition of their own in response to recent backlash from homeowners and renters in the area.

“Whether you are choosing to live in a van or it’s a last resort, it should not be illegal,” writes author Jasper Sunshine, who says the petition is about voicing their “right to live an alternate lifestyle.”

Living in a van isn’t illegal – but the City of Victoria has bylaws that limit overnighting in certain areas. The city has said it will introduce “limited restricted parking” on Dallas Road and enhance education and enforcement of overnight parking bylaws.

Thousands attend rally for Black lives in downtown Victoria

Thousands attended a peace rally for Black lives in downtown Victoria, filling Centennial Square to the brim on June 7. Sparked by the death of George Floyd, massive protests have erupted across North America and worldwide.

“We as a society, especially in Canada, feel that we aren’t racist,” said Vanessa Simon, co-organizer of the Peace Rally for Black Lives.

“Just because you don’t see it in the news doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. There are many examples of micro-aggressions and police brutality.”

More than 4,000 people were expected to show at the event and peaceful protesters were seen atop parking lots, in stairwells and any open patch of grass. Dozens of Black speakers shared their experiences with racism and led the crowds in chants and calls to action.

Victoria council recommends prioritizing housing for people in the area for at least a year

People who have lived in Victoria for at least a year should be prioritized for housing, says Victoria council.

The motion that passed unanimously during an August committee of the whole meeting draws on data from the 2020 Greater Victoria Point in Time homeless count which found that the majority of respondents have lived in the area for over a year.

The PiT count found that 82 per cent of people who were surveyed lived in the area longer than one year, with 42 per cent living in the region for five years and 22 per cent residing in Greater Victoria for their entire lives.

In September council asked staff to update a parks bylaw that impacts those living in temporary shelters across the city.

At the time, staff estimated 275 people were living outside in Victoria. According to the report, the number of people sheltering in Victoria’s parks has more than doubled between June and August, a residual effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing opioid crisis.

Coun. Sharmarke Dubow said the number of people living outside in Victoria was “manageable,” but voiced concerns about warmth and cooking for people as the winter months loom.


 

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Dr. Omar Ahmad, department head of emergency and critical care medicine (far right), stands with the Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Jubilee Hospital. (Provided by the Victoria Hospitals Foundation)

Dr. Omar Ahmad, department head of emergency and critical care medicine (far right), stands with the Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Jubilee Hospital. (Provided by the Victoria Hospitals Foundation)

Dallas Road has become home for several overnight campers. (Black Press Media file photo)

Dallas Road has become home for several overnight campers. (Black Press Media file photo)

Pam Buisa (left), Asiyah Robinson and Vanessa Simon organized a peace rally for the Black Lives Matter movement that drew thousands to Victoria’s Centennial Square. (Black Press Media file photo)

Pam Buisa (left), Asiyah Robinson and Vanessa Simon organized a peace rally for the Black Lives Matter movement that drew thousands to Victoria’s Centennial Square. (Black Press Media file photo)

Victoria’s homeless population struggles with the winter weather. (Black Press Media file photo)

Victoria’s homeless population struggles with the winter weather. (Black Press Media file photo)

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