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Camping in Vancouver parks to be allowed after marathon meetings

Last Updated Jul 15, 2020 at 7:43 am PDT

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

The Vancouver Park Board will be allowing temporary overnight shelter in the city's parks

Board voted to amend Parks Control Bylaw to allow temporary camping in green spaces, allow people to erect shelters

Park Board heard from more than 90 speakers both for and against changes to the bylaw

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Temporarily setting up a tent in Vancouver’s parks will soon be legal, after the Park Board passed a motion early Wednesday morning to allow for temporary overnight sheltering in green spaces.

The move is meant to give the city’s homeless a place to lay their head for the night, which the B.C. Supreme Court has previously ruled is their right.

Park Board commissioners considered the controversial bylaw change over two days and heard from at least 90 speakers.

Kelsey, a mother of two in Vancouver, is one of the many who spoke against the motion, saying she believes it will make parks less safe for everyone involved.

“Currently, at Strathcona, there’s like 250 tents. I mean, there’s absolutely no way that can be monitored, nor would it be safe for your own people and that’s a bit of a concern,” she told commissioners, adding she heard there are just more than a dozen Park Rangers tasked with enforcement.

Others spoke in favour of the bylaw amendment, which allows people experiencing homelessness to set up a tent or other temporary shelter in parks at dusk, as long as they’re down by 7:00 a.m.

“I encourage everyone to come down and actually sit around a table and talk about how we can work together to actually create some trauma-informed, culturally-safe community consultation,” Chrissy Brett, who speaks for the encampment at Strathcona Park, which was set up after campers were evicted from Oppenheimer Park, and subsequently CRAB Park, said.

Katie Lewis, who says she’s lived in the Strathcona area with her young family for a few years and who is the vice president of the Strathcona Residents Association, said while she’s in support of changes to the bylaw, she sees the dire need for change in resources.

The encampment at Strathcona Park is a key example, she noted.

“You’re clearly very stretched, and I think we’re all quite understanding of that,” she told Park Board commissioners, noting the number of rangers and staff the board has on hand.

“In order to do your job, the Park Board needs to have bylaws that are constitutionally enforceable, that’s basic,” Lewis added.

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Commissioner Tricia Barker, who voted against the motion to amend the current bylaw, told NEWS 1130 following the special meeting the biggest concern from people that she heard was the cleanliness and security around Vancouver’s parks.

“We’ve been told that we needed to change this bylaw to be in line with what the law was saying we needed to do,” she explained. “We knew there was going to be a push to have this bylaw put in place. But everyone in Vancouver really needs to have a clean and safe park to go to, and that’s what Commissioner Coupar and I were working towards. We will see how things work out.”

A 2009 B.C. Supreme Court decision ruled that homeless people have a constitutional right to erect temporary overnight shelters on public lands. It found that restricting people from doing so would be a Charter right violation, given the lack of adequate shelter capacity for those experiencing homelessness.

The change to the Parks Control Bylaw was required since it does not permit people to remain in parks overnight or to erect temporary structures in these spaces. These by-laws have not been enforced since the court’s ruling.

“We never asked for an injunction to test the bylaw we used to have. And if we had tested it and it had fallen through then yes, I could see that we would have to make changes to the bylaw to be in line with the Supreme Court judgement. But I would have rathered we gone with that and not just made the changes to make it easier to tent overnight in parks,” Barker said. “Our main concern will always be to have safe and clean parks for everyone in Vancouver, and I don’t see how this bylaw is going to be helping that.”

The Park Board’s special meeting began on Monday but was extended into Tuesday after hearing from two groups of speakers.