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British Columbia Victoria homeless camp must be dismantled, B.C. judge says

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

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

A British Columbia judge has ordered the shut down of a camp on the lawn of Victoria's courthouse where about 100 people have been living since last fall.

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson of the B.C. Supreme Court said in a 40-page decision released Tuesday conditions have deteriorated at the so-called tent city.

"I have come to the conclusion that the encampment is unsafe for those living there and for the neighbouring residents and businesses and cannot be permitted to continue," he wrote.

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The ruling grants the province an injunction to shut down the camp over the next several weeks.

It was the second time the government had applied for an injunction. Hinkson denied the original application in April, ruling the government hadn't proved it would suffer irreparable harm if an injunction wasn't granted.

Conditions changed between the two injunction applications, Hinkson said, adding that violence and criminal activity at the camp have "markedly increased" in recent months.

"There is evidence that members of an organized and criminal street gang have been present at the encampment, and at one point were resident there," he said.

Neighbours have also reported seeing drug paraphernalia, used condoms and evidence of rats in and around the site in recent months, the ruling said.

Hinkson ordered residents of the tent city to leave as soon as they can and move into housing made available by the province.

He also ordered all fences and obstructions in the camp to be removed immediately.

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Everyone will need to have moved off the site, and all structures and possessions must be taken away, by Aug. 8 at the latest, the ruling said.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman has said the government will have housing available for every camper by that date.

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, a community centre and a seniors care facility, Coleman has said.

In the next three days, anyone without a place to live must identify themselves to provincial officials so they can get help finding housing, the ruling said.

The court order shows the province has done a good job of providing housing for people who need it, Coleman said in a recorded statement reacting to the decision.

"And we can now bring this particular site back to use for everyone in the city of Victoria."

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What happens if campers remain after the Aug. 8 deadline is unclear.

The Victoria Police Department said the order does not contain any specific direction for it to follow, so officers will review the details of the decision and work with other interested parties to determine its next steps.

Coleman said the province has a transition plan in place for people living in the camp.

"We will continue to relocate them into the appropriate shelter in an orderly and co-operative way," he said.

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