Crissy Brett, leader of the tent city that was set up in Charles Hoey Park last spring, is taken away by police after refusing to comply with a court order to dismantle the homeless camp. (File photo)

Year in Review: Duncan’s tent city captured Island headlines in 2017

Homelessness still a growing issue in Valley

A tent city for the homeless that moved around Duncan for several weeks early in 2017 made headlines across the Island.

It began in late March when Crissy Brett and a small group of supporters erected tents on the corner of the Trans Canada Highway and Beverly Street.

Brett, a member of the Nuxalt First Nation, said at the time that she wanted to do her part to draw attention to the homeless problem in the Cowichan Valley, and across B.C., as the provincial election approached.

She said she and her group intended to be at the intersection for just a few days before setting up again in another high-profile location in Duncan for another short while to draw attention to the homeless problem.

After moving to a couple sites around Duncan over the next few says without incident, Brett and her supporters camped in downtown’s busy Charles Hoey Park at the beginning of April.

After receiving complaints and concerns from the public, the municipality issued “Notice to Vacate” letters on April 6 to the campers, requiring that they vacate the park by noon on April 8 or the city would proceed with legal action.

Brett and her group of approximately 12 campers at the time decided to defy the order and it wasn’t long before the city petitioned the courts for help.

On April 18, the Supreme Court of BC ordered that the homeless camp be removed.

Justice Brian MacKenzie gave the campers until 3 p.m. on April 20 to comply with the court order, or face possible fines, jail or both.

But in a further act of defiance, Brett and her supporters decided to stand their ground, so more than a dozen police and bylaw officers descended on the homeless camp early on April 21.

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The officials ordered the campers to remove their tents and possessions from the park or they would be removed for them, and most complied with no resistance.

When faced with arrest, Brett fell to the ground and began chanting a native prayer while she was handcuffed and her rights were read to her.

Several police officers then picked Brett up off the ground and placed her in a carrying blanket before she was taken to a nearby police van and taken away.

She was the only one of the campers taken into custody.

Brett, who was charged with disobeying a court order, was released within hours of her arrest after promising to appear back in court at a later date, and was prohibited from returning to the park.

In the end, more than $45,000 was spent by the City of Duncan in dealing with the tent city, which included more than $25,000 for legal and court-finding fees.

But, with the homeless population in the Valley continuing to grow, another tent city occupied by homeless people sprang up in North Cowichan in November on Lewis Street.

That tent community was dismantled when RCMP and bylaw officers moved in on Dec. 14.

Meanwhile, Brett has begun another nomadic tent city, this one in the Colwood area, in her ongoing efforts to bring attention to homeless issues.

As of early December, Brett and approximately 12 supporters have set up camp on public property in Colwood after spending several weeks camping in a number of different areas around the community.

“Colwood has been absolutely amazing,” Brett told a reporter from the Goldstream Gazette while setting up her tent.

“I think this is, hopefully, Colwood setting the bar for other municipalities.”



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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