The Abbotsford police are facing allegations from a community group that officers trashed a homeless camp in the city’s downtown, including blasting bear mace and pepper spray into tents, raising more concerns about how the city is dealing with its homeless population.
The alleged incident, brought forward at a city meeting last week, comes just days after the mayor publicly apologized to residents after city workers dumped chicken manure near another homeless camp.
“There have been allegations [against officials] for a number of years, but they’ve escalated over the last 60 to 90 days,” said Ward Draper, the executive director of the 5 and 2 Ministries, a community outreach organization that works with Abbotsford’s homeless population.
Mr. Draper says that several people, who live in a downtown area known as Compassion Park, told him that in late May five tents were destroyed by police officers with at least three sprayed with either bear mace or pepper spray. He says he believes the information he received is reliable.
“They went back inside the tents and their eyes started watering. The effects of the mace was evident,” said Mr. Draper, who presented the allegations to the city’s Social Development Advisory Committee.
Mr. Draper added that some of the people affected by the alleged incident have dispersed to other areas of the city, while others remain in the park.
The Abbotsford police say they are investigating the matter.
“We certainly give a high level of credibility to the 5 and 2 Ministries,” said Constable Ian MacDonald, a spokesperson for the Abbotsford Police. “They’re front-line advocates and that’s part of the reason why we took the allegations seriously.”
The department has also requested that the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner begin an investigation into the allegations.
Constable MacDonald says there is still no official complainant and the police have no exact location or timeline of when the alleged incident took place.
“If people have information about these allegations, or a story to tell, we’re trying to reach out to them and make contact with us, and if need be have us go to the field and ask the questions,” he said.
Earlier in the month, Abbotsford city workers dumped chicken manure near another homeless camp, sparking outrage from homeless advocates. The city’s general manager took responsibility for the incident and Mayor Bruce Banman later issued an apology.
Mr. Banman says that incident and the latest one allegedly involving the police reflect the need for a larger discussion on the homelessness situation in Abbotsford.
“The cities cannot not be solely responsible for finding a solution to homelessness. It’s going to take all levels of government to find a solution,” Mr. Banman said. “The problems are as varied as the people themselves.”
Mr. Draper of the 5 and 2 Ministries says the city urgently needs to look at viable housing alternatives.
“What kind of housing options can we come up with? Can we come up with a community camp idea? Could we come up with container housing?” Mr. Draper said. “Things that could address some of the housing issues in our area.”