Campers have been told they must take down the tent city that has sprung up in Duncan’s Charles Hoey Park. (Citizen file)

Court rules Duncan’s homeless camp must leave park

Campers have until 3 p.m. on April 20 to leave the park

The campers in Duncan’s Charles Hoey Park will hold a meeting on Wednesday at 4 p.m. to decide if they want to take their camp down or defy the law.

Crissy Brett, spokeswoman for the approximately 15 campers in the park, said the campers will be given two options; pack up their gear and possibly follow her to her next homeless camp which will be located closer to Victoria, or stand their ground and wait and see what the authorities will do.

The Supreme Court of BC has ordered on April 18 that the homeless camp be removed.

Justice Brian MacKenzie gave the campers until 3 p.m. 0n April 20 to comply with the court order, or face possible fines, jail or both, according to Troy DeSouza, the City of Duncan’s legal counsel in the case.

“If the campers choose to stay, we’ll be holding a block party and rally against our displacement at 2 p.m. on (April 20),” Brett said.

DeSouza said Justice MacKenzie heard both sides of the issue before he made his ruling, which is a court order and the campers will be in contempt of court if they don’t comply.

“The city already has a reasonable bylaw to deal with some of its homeless issues,” he said.

”Some homeless in the city (like those with no fixed address or no predictable residence to return to on a daily basis) can erect overnight shelter in some city parks, subject to some restrictions, between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. But neither permanent nor daytime encampments are permitted in any city park.”

The encampment was originally established in the park on March 31 as a protest to advocate for housing.

When it became apparent the campers were intending to stay for a long period in the park, they were served a Notice to Vacate by noon on April 8.

When that did not happen, the city sought and obtained an order from the Supreme Court of BC to hear the merits of the case on April 18.

Duncan Mayor Phil Kent, the city’s CAO Peter de Verteuil and bylaw officers met with Brett and other campers on April 13 in an unsuccessful effort to find a compromise.

“The city offered, if the campers willfully vacated prior to April 18, that the city would drop the charges and support them in transitioning to Warmland House.” Kent said.

“Unfortunately Chrissy felt, among other things, that some campers were not welcome at Warmland, and that other campers could not abide by the Warmland House rules.”

Kent said Warmland House has confirmed that there are enough shelter beds available for all campers who are at Charles Hoey Park.

He said even those who have previously been asked to leave the shelter due to inappropriate behavior are welcome to return once their behavior is under control.

“We explained (to the campers) that council is approaching the Municipality of North Cowichan and Cowichan Tribes to work on a collaborative approach to advocate for funding for social housing in the Cowichan Valley, but this takes time,” de Verteuil said.

“We also explained that the encampment risks reducing the very strong local support in the Cowichan Valley to advocate for housing and homelessness initiatives.”

In a statement, the city said it is requesting that the public and all stakeholders maintain patience, civility and respect as the municipality works through the court process.