Victoria homeless camp injunction sought after fire hazard inspection
Report says it's 'only a matter of time' before a serious fire breaks out
A fire commissioner's report warning of life-threatening dangers at a homeless camp on the grounds of Victoria's courthouse has prompted British Columbia's government to head back to court in a second attempt to shut down the tent city.
Housing Minister Rich Coleman said Friday in an audio statement released by his ministry that the government will be back in court next week to apply for an interim injunction to dismantle the camp.
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The government already has a Sept. 7 court date in B.C. Supreme Court to apply for a permanent injunction to remove the camp.
"The office of the fire commissioner has determined the site is not in compliance with the safety order issued May 11," said Coleman. "As a result, he has stated in his report the danger to life and safety created by the fire hazards is increasing and is considered to be only a matter of time before a serious fire incident occurs."
More than 100 people have been living in tents on the front lawn of the courthouse since last November. Many of the tents are covered in tarps and some campers have added rudimentary wood extensions.
The inspection report by fire commissioner Bob Cooper stated there has been a serious deterioration of safety conditions since his last inspection earlier this month. Cooper was at the site on Wednesday to conduct another inspection.
"Structures are larger and flow together due to the flammable tarpaulins with little or no separation between the tents," stated his report. "Overall the danger to life created by the fire hazards is increasing and is considered to be only a matter of time before a serious fire incident occurs."
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Hinkson denied a government injunction application to shut down the camp last April after a three-day hearing.
He said he was concerned that issuing an injunction would mean the homelessness problems would simply migrate to other areas of Victoria.
Hinkson said the number of homeless in Victoria continues to exceed the available beds and shelters in the city by a considerable amount.
The minister said earlier that the government has provided housing options for more than 100 people connected to the camp.
The government bought a seniors care home to provide housing and created temporary shelter space at a former youth jail and a downtown Boys and Girls Club. It also offered rent supplement payments to others.
People living near the site say their neighbourhood has become an urban ghetto, with discarded needles, human feces and other waste left in the area by the campers.
Victoria council granted police extra funds last week to increase patrols at the camp after reports of increased violence and a gang presence in the area.
But academics from across B.C. called on the government to abandon its court plans.
"Rather than use the coercive power of the courts and police to displace this tent city, we are calling for the province to see this moment as an opportunity to reverse policies and political processes that have caused displacement and homelessness to be a dominant feature in major Canadian cities today," stated the open letter.
The letter was signed by 101 academics and researchers from numerous organizations including the Centre for Addictions Research, Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.