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Facebook photo of Carl Sinclair from just before Christmas – who was the victim of an assault last fall in a homelessness encampment, survived his injuries but died of an overdose in April 2021Facebook

Carl Sinclair, whose assault last fall at a tent city in Vancouver’s Strathcona Park helped fuel calls for housing and support for people living there, has died.

Mr. Sinclair’s beating went unreported for 12 hours as he lay injured in the park and ultimately forced the amputation of his leg. After time in hospital and a rehabilitation centre, he and his mother moved into adjacent rooms at a downtown hotel. Mr. Sinclair died there last month of an overdose, his mother said.

Before he died, Mr. Sinclair did several interviews that cast a spotlight on conditions in the camp and the city’s long-standing homelessness crisis. His death, at 25, underscores the parallel crisis of tainted-drug deaths – a public emergency in B.C. since 2016.

“He touched so many people’s lives … he had hopes and dreams and he was an inspiration for a lot of people,” said Connie Sinclair, who said she and her late son are members of the Skuppah Indian Band, whose traditional territory is along the Fraser River near Lytton, B.C.

Ms. Sinclair said her son had hoped for a fresh start but was struggling with his injuries, which included losing his leg to the hip and nerve damage in one hand. BC Housing made two rooms available for him and his mother to help in his recovery at a downtown Holiday Inn, one of several the province has purchased to accommodate people who have been living in encampments.

From a patio, Ms. Sinclair could see through a window into his room; when she saw his wheelchair and his bed were both empty, she called the housing operator to check on him and learned he had died overnight.

A coroner told her that her son died of an overdose, Ms. Sinclair said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Mr. Sinclair’s ordeal touched off a wave of compassion from friends and strangers, some of whom contributed to an online fundraiser his mother launched to help in his recovery.

Mr. Sinclair was born in Lytton and is the third of five children, Ms. Sinclair said.

Ms. Sinclair said her son wound up in the encampment after a fight with his then-girlfriend resulted in an assault charge and an order to not return to his apartment.

He had no memory of the assault, which left him with broken ribs, burns and other injuries.

The encampment, set up in June, 2020, in a 10-hectare park a short drive from downtown Vancouver, was one in a series of tent cities that have popped up in B.C. over the past decade.

Camp residents and advocates said the encampment provided a sense of community and allowed the people staying there to maintain physical distancing during the pandemic.

A series of legal decisions in B.C. has upheld the rights of people to camp overnight in public parks if adequate shelter is not available.

Beginning in March, 2020, pandemic restrictions hit services and spaces used by people who are homeless, including public washrooms, and resulted in visitor restrictions at shelters and social-housing units.

In June, 2020, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry issued guidance noting that clearing or moving encampments without immediately providing shelter or housing can cause people to scatter throughout the community and break connections for service providers, increasing the risk of disease.

The same order also stated that encampments “are not a suitable or desirable form of long-term housing” and listed risks, including crowding and fire hazards.

There were several fires at the Strathcona Park encampment and the Vancouver Police Department reported several violent incidents, including the assault on Mr. Sinclair. The encampment is now winding down, after the province bought several hotels to help house people who had been living at the park.

Police have been investigating the assault on Mr. Sinclair but no arrests have been made.

Ms. Sinclair was living in Kamloops when her son was injured. She hadn’t heard from him in a few days, which was unusual, and says she reported him as a missing person to police.

When she started calling hospitals, she found he was in intensive care at Vancouver General Hospital.

On his Facebook page, Mr. Sinclair in December posted a photo showing a purplish scar running from near his collarbone to his armpit, with the words ‘Almost healed’ and the hashtag, #battlescars.

Ms. Sinclair said she knew her son used drugs and that she worried about the risks.

“He talked to me openly about that, he really talked to me openly about a lot of things,” Ms. Sinclair said.

“The day before, he said, ‘I promise I’m not going to do anything,’ ” she added.

B.C. declared a public-health emergency related to drug deaths in April, 2016.

First Nations overdose deaths in B.C. nearly doubled, from 46 to 89, from January to May, 2020, compared with the same period in 2019, according to the First Nations Health Authority. And First Nations people accounted for 16 per cent of all overdose deaths in the province in that period, while making up only 3.3 per cent of the population, the FNHA said.

Ms. Sinclair said Carl was struggling to adapt to losing his leg and had told his grandmother he didn’t know if he could adjust. She takes comfort in the fact that she and her other children are together as they mourn his loss

“He is not suffering any more,” she said. “I think he is at peace now.”

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