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British Columbia B.C. makes second bid to evict Victoria courthouse homeless campers

Tent City is pictured in Victoria, on May 24, 2016.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

The British Columbia government says fire, crime and sanitary conditions at a homeless camp outside the courthouse in Victoria have degenerated since March when the province originally applied for a court injunction to shut it down.

The government returned to B.C. Supreme Court on Monday for a second time seeking an interim injunction to start evicting more than 100 people who have been living in tents on the courthouse lawn since the fall.

Crown lawyer Warren Milman said fire risks remain at the camp since a fire commissioner's report warned it was only a matter of time before a serious fire occurred.

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Milman said the fire dangers include crowded pathways, tarp-covered tents and the storage of combustible materials.

"Far from having made progress, there's been movement in the opposite direction," said Milman. "Things have got worse, not better."

He said the government is concerned about fire dangers and is prepared to accept a phased dismantling of the camp once the fire dangers are removed.

The government will have housing ready for every camper by Aug. 8, Milman told the court.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman recently announced that the provincial government had bought a former seniors care facility in downtown Victoria for $11.2 million with plans to turn it into 140 housing units with their own bathrooms and a communal kitchen for the homeless. The former care facility is expected to include programs for people dealing with drug and alcohol addictions or mental health issues, he said.

The province has already provided more than 190 spaces for Victoria's homeless since last October, including shelter and living units at a former youth jail, community centre and seniors care facility, Coleman said.

In April, the Supreme Court refused to grant the province an interim injunction to evict the campers, ruling the government did not prove it would suffer irreparable harm if an injunction wasn't granted.

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After that decision, Victoria council granted police extra funds to increase patrols at the camp after reports of increased violence and gang presence in the area.

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