Jason Seward, a bylaw officer with the Cowichan Tribes, stands by an abandoned mattress and other debris left by illegal squatters along the Cowichan River. (Robert Barron photo)

Jason Seward, a bylaw officer with the Cowichan Tribes, stands by an abandoned mattress and other debris left by illegal squatters along the Cowichan River. (Robert Barron photo)

Another tent city dismantled

Squatters were camped on private land on Cowichan River

A small tent city that sprung up along the Cowichan River this summer has been largely dismantled; but much of the mess remains.

Jason Seward, a bylaw officer with the Cowichan Tribes, said the number of tents at the site, located behind the House of Friendship Centre near Duncan’s Silver Bridge, has dropped from approximately 13 to one over a three-week period.

He said the owner of the property, who is an unidentified member of the Cowichan Tribes, police officers from the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment and Cowichan Tribe bylaw officers have been working together since last month to peaceably convince the squatters to pack up their tents and move on.

“We’ve been monitoring the site daily and we intend to keep monitoring it regularly because we don’t want those remaining to get comfortable being there,” Seward said.

“But while they are leaving here, many are just going elsewhere. The latest spot seems to be along Cowichan Bay Road.”

As well, Seward said officers have been successful in having many of the squatters clean their area before they vacate the property, but there’s still a significant mess that’s left behind.

He said he expects the top layer of topsoil will likely also have to be removed from much of the site due to the number of needles hidden just below the surface of the soil and other materials that could be dangerous to people’s health that may be left there from the squatters.

A tent city for the homeless was illegally set up in Charles Hoey Park in downtown Duncan in April, but was raided by police and city bylaw officers after the Supreme Court of B.C. ordered that it be dismantled.

The city ended up paying more than $45,000 to deal with the issue, including $25,000 for court costs and $8,500 for soil removal and the clean up of the site.

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Const. Pam Bolton, a spokeswoman for the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment, acknowledged that police officers have been liaising with Cowichan Tribes bylaw officers to deal with the squatters along the Cowichan River.

She said main role of the RCMP is to “keep the peace” if and when required.

“The campers that we have dealt with so far have been respectful and we’ve had no issues at this time,” Bolton said.

“But there has been an increase this summer in the coming and going of people from the site, as well as drug use there. Our goal is to ensure that this area is clean and safe for these people, and for others who visit the area as well.”

As for where the squatters are heading once they leave the Cowichan River, Bolton said she can’t speak to that.

“Our job is to deal with the day to day concerns in the community at the time, and we try to do that the best way possible,” she said.