The more than 100 people who remain camped out at an East Vancouver park should be allowed to stay until the city can secure for them meaningful housing alternatives, lawyers for the group have argued.
But it will be a tough sell to B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Duncan, who on Monday noted the campers had already disobeyed an interim order she issued a week earlier.
The City of Vancouver is seeking an injunction to dismantle the encampment at Oppenheimer Park, citing deteriorating health and safety conditions. The tent city sprang up in mid-July, when a couple of dozen people moved in to highlight a lack of affordable housing, and comprised more than 200 tents at its peak.
Last week, Justice Duncan granted a one-week adjournment to allow lawyers with the Pivot Legal Society – which represents the campers – more time to prepare arguments. The same day, she issued an interim order that on-site fires be extinguished and tarps connecting tents be taken down for safety reasons.
But on Monday, the first day of the injunction hearing, the court heard that a ceremonial fire that was extinguished on Sept. 25 was lit again five days later – the day the interim order was posted and handed out to campers. In the following days, the fire burned largely unattended, propane tanks were brought in and a wooden structure was being assembled in a makeshift kitchen area, according to a new affidavit by Joe Foster, assistant fire chief with Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services.
During an inspection last Thursday, fire personnel identified 103 separate infractions of the court order, such as open flames and smoking materials in and around tents, Mr. Foster stated in his affidavit.
In a separate affidavit, Vancouver Police Inspector Howard Chow said there were 364 calls to police regarding the park between July 17 and Sept. 18, resulting in 170 documented police incidents.
Ben Parkin, a lawyer for the city, said on Monday the city will continue to allow protests at Oppenheimer between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., but protesters must abide by bylaws that prohibit people from taking up temporary abode, loitering or acting in an otherwise offensive manner.
He also noted that several events regularly held at the public park – including the Powell Street Festival, a Downtown Community Health Clinic event and other programming – had to be moved or cancelled because of the encampment.
Pivot argued that moving the campers prematurely would be a greater inconvenience to them than their staying would be to the city.
"There is this presumption that the city is inconvenienced by not being allowed to enforce their laws; what we're saying is that's actually very minimal compared to the potential negative consequences in moving people out," lawyer DJ Larkin said.
"That means waiting until they have done proper outreach and the housing that the city says it is building and opening in the coming months is actually available."
This includes 40 shelter spaces at the former Kettle of Fish restaurant on Pacific Street and 30 at the Union Gospel Mission – both already open – and 157 at the former Quality Hotel Downtown on Howe Street in November. On Friday, the B.C. government said it would fund an additional 30 shelter beds for men at the Harbour Lights complex in Vancouver to "provide more options for people currently staying in Oppenheimer Park."
The city and B.C. Housing say they have already moved at least 40 homeless campers from the site to housing options.
The injunction hearing is expected to continue through Wednesday.