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Vancouver Park Board hearing more on bylaw allowing camping in parks

FILE - A tent city near CRAB Park on June 16, 2020. (CityNews Photo)
Summary

Vancouver Park Board to hear from the public again Tuesday regarding homeless people camping in public parks

Vancouver Park Board is looking at updating the parks control bylaw to comply with court decision that allows camping

Park board staff acknowledge past court decisions and indicate the Vancouver bylaw is not enforced

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The Vancouver Park Board is scheduled to hear from the public again Tuesday after a special meeting the previous day regarding camping in municipal parks was extended after more than 90 speakers signed up.

The Vancouver Park Board is looking at updating the parks control bylaw to reflect a court decision allowing people to camp overnight in parks as long as they pack up by 7 a.m.

Monday’s meeting heard from two groups of speakers before it was recessed. A third group is set to speak at Wednesday’s meeting, which starts at 6 p.m.

Three sections of the bylaw currently prohibit sleeping in parks: one bans people from entering parks at night; another prevents people from loitering overnight; and the third makes it illegal to erect a tent without permission.

However, the B.C. Supreme Court struck down an Abbotsford bylaw in October 2015 that prohibited homeless people from setting up temporary shelter and sleeping in municipal parks.

Court decisions

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson determined not allowing homeless people to sleep in parks constitutes a violation of Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, which ensures the right to security of the person.

The ruling allows people to erect shelters and sleep in public spaces and parks between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

In 2009, another court decision involving the City of Victoria ruled homeless people have a constitutional right to erect temporary overnight shelters.

Park board staff acknowledge the court decisions and, in a report, indicate the Vancouver bylaw is not enforced.

Park rangers, according to the report, have been allowing the homeless to seek temporary overnight shelter, but requesting that tents be removed in the morning.

The report says further the bylaw “must be updated to ensure it is unenforceable and that it recognizes the needs of all park users.”

It also says, although encampments may provide a sense of security, they can negatively impact the health and safety of neighbourhood businesses and residents.

They also require the attention of park rangers.

Rangers on duty

“Currently about eight per cent of available ranger resources are required for monitoring and managing homeless shelter activity in parks,” says the report.

According to the park board, park rangers responded to 625 per cent more cases in parks from 2015 to 2019. Cases involving temporary structures rose dramatically from 2017 to 2019.

The updated bylaw would still require tents to be dismantled by 7 a.m.

“In order for the board to deliver on its mission, the parks control bylaw must be updated to ensure it is enforceable and that it recognizes the needs of all park users, including those currently experiencing homelessness,” says the report.

Vancouver parks

The discussion comes as the encampment at Vancouver’s Strathcona Park grows to about 150 tents.

The proposed bylaw revision would include some restrictions: no tents would be allowed within a 25-metre buffer around playgrounds, near sensitive environments, in forested areas, along trails, and in gardens.

Coun. Pete Fry said at the meeting he doesn’t support permanent encampments in any park.

“That’s why I like this bylaw because it really gives that emphasis on the temporary side of it,” he said.

Fry said he’s attended a number of “intentional communities” and what makes them work is the scale and the rules involved.

But given its size, he doesn’t see where the Strathcona Park encampment could be relocated.

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“Frankly, in the absence of rules for the safety of campers, and that includes around violence and around criminality and predatory behaviour, I don’t think I would feel comfortable sanctioning a camp without rules that have been in place.”

However, he suggested the city could work with faith-based groups to allow them to sponsor small encampments, in church parking lots for example, “that are sober and had good behaviour practices, and a code of ethics and good neighbour agreements to engage in community building.”

“Church members coming out and building houses for people, that kind of thing.”

Kareem Abrahim spoke at the meeting on behalf of UBC law students who support the decriminalization of drugs, as well as harm reduction strategies, and the Law Union of B.C. He said neither supports the proposed bylaw changes.

“This bylaw amendment, it does the bare minimum to satisfying current case law,” he said.

“The very same charter violations that are in question that this bylaw seems to aim to circumvent still are going to be continuing despite these efforts.”

He added homelessness is a policy decision.

“It’s not an inevitable reality,” Abrahim said. “I imploring you, as the Vancouver Park Board, to do more than the bare minimum.”

Read full B.C. Supreme Court decision:

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