British Columbia

City's security measures have made Anita Place feel like a prison, tent city advocate argues

Lawyers representing occupants of the Anita Place homeless camp are back in B.C. Supreme Court in an effort to get a judge to clarify an injunction order from February, claiming the security imposed on the camp by the City of Maple Ridge is excessive.

'Number of security guards often outnumbers the number of homeless people inside,' Pivot lawyer tells judge

Advocates for homeless people living at the Anita Place camp are in B.C. Supreme Court in hopes of getting a judge to order Maple Ridge officials to ease security measures at the camp. (Valerie Gamache/Radio-Canada)

Lawyers representing occupants of the Anita Place homeless camp in Maple Ridge are back in B.C. Supreme Court in an effort to get a judge to clarify an injunction order from February.

Advocates for the camp occupants — which now number as few as seven, when there were once almost 200 — claim the security imposed on the camp by the City of Maple Ridge is excessive, and restrictions put the occupants at risk.

"It's fenced entirely all around, it's surrounded by security guards at all times, the number of security guards often outnumbers the number of homeless people inside, there's a security camera," said Anna Cooper, a staff lawyer with Pivot Legal Society.

Cooper described Anita Place as feeling like a medium-security prison.

She said the injunction ordered Feb. 8 gave Maple Ridge officials powers to ensure fire safety and to assist people to move into housing.

"What we have seen happen instead is that since that order was granted, the city has taken a number of actions which have effectively closed camp and blocked people from visiting and blocked people from accessing harm reduction on that site," said Cooper.

According to Cooper, the goal of the application before the court is to show the judge what has happened since the injunction was ordered, in the hope that he'll allow people to return to Anita Place to live, as well as allowing visitors.

'It's like a refugee camp down there'

One of the few people still living at Anita Place is Dwayne Martin. He has built a two-storey cabin at the site.

"It's ridiculous. It's like a refugee camp down there," said Martin. "I've gotta get my bags checked. I can't have any visitors."

Dwayne Martin was at the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Wednesday, as lawyers argued that Maple Ridge officials have been taking an injunction order agains the Anita Place camp too far. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It's not right what they're doing and I've got no problem fighting," he said, adding that he plans to build additional floors onto his cabin.

Meanwhile, Eva Bardonnex, who lived at Anita Place until she moved into modular housing November, said the fact that there are only about seven people living at the camp isn't due to the fact that people have found proper housing — they've just found other places to camp.

"Those people didn't go and get homes, a lot of them are in the bush," said Bardonnex, who does peer support work. "They're back in the bush, there's another camp that's set up — we're not going to say where, but there's another camp that's actually set up. They're still there. They're still homeless."

Jeffrey Locke, the lawyer representing Maple Ridge, argued in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday that searching camp occupants' bags is no different than searching bags of people entering a stadium for a sports event.

He told the judge that the practice is "to strengthen the efficacy of your lordship's order."

Locke said outside the courtroom that he plans to show the court that the injunction order has successfully made the property safer. He hopes to have the application thrown out.

The court proceedings continue through Thursday.


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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver, filing stories for cbc.ca, CBC Radio, and television.

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