More than two weeks after the District of Saanich issued campers in Regina Park an eviction notice, the question looms as to just why Saanich is not evicting the residents of the encampment.
Here is the official response from the District of Saanich.
”While the District of Saanich would like to resolve the Regina Park encampment as soon as possible, we have to work within the framework of the law, which takes time and is beyond our control,” said Megan Catalano, a spokesperson for the municipality. “We are not able to comment further at this time because the encampment is an evolving legal matter.”
The legal matter at the centre of this issue concerns the Charter rights of homeless individuals. As acting chief administrative officer Suzanne Samborski noted in a recent memo to council, courts in British Columbia have established that homeless individuals may erect temporary overnight shelter in a public park (like Regina Park) in the absence of shelter spaces available to accommodate them, with courts citing nothing less than the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as justification.
Saanich, in short, could invite a lengthy, expensive legal response, if it were to crack down. More practically, the encampment has grown to include several dozen tents in a very visible location. The optics (along with the logistics) of removing those tents and their inhabitants could trigger a public relations nightmare for Saanich.
Camp residents are aware of this context, and at least one of their leaders, Chrissy Brett, has already raised the prospect of “resistance” in case Saanich were to remove them from the park, a point that did not go over well with District officials. Both sides have since de-escalated their rhetoric, having met earlier this month to discuss future solutions, with at least one additional meeting scheduled.
Saanich has taken steps to prohibit overnight camping in certain parks, including Cuthbert Holmes Park, in following the example set by the City of Victoria. But this pending prohibition does not include Regina Park.
Authorities have also taken measures to make the camp safer as the fire risk has risen along with summer temperatures, cutting the grass and forcing campers to move away from fences. These measures suggest that the campers won’t be moving anytime soon.
Elected officials — at least those willing to speak on the record — are preaching patience, residents living near Regina Park have continued to voice concerns about the effects of the camp.
Coun. Fred Haynes — who is also a director of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness and past chair of the CRD Regional Housing Trust Fund — said Saanich staff including support and protective services are “working diligently” with camp organizers to resolve this situation.
“It is important to realize this is a complicated process,” he said. “The right to over night shelter has been up held by the courts of Canada. It will take some time to find solutions. I would like to thank the residents around the park for their patience and understanding. I recognize their valid concerns while this process continues.”
Mayor Richard Atwell said Saanich remains committed to ending the encampment. “We also have to find a housing solution for these people,” he said. “If we can supply land and partner with B.C. Housing, it will work towards those addressing the needs of the community and those in the camp who have no other place to sleep.”