British Columbia

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read returns to work after threats

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read is back at work after facing a barrage of online harassment for her support of the homeless in her community.

'It's not something you’d think you'd have to deal with as a mayor in local government,' says Read

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read has returned to work after nearly a month away from public appearances after the RCMP investigated serious threats to her personal safety. (Nicole Read/Facebook)

The Mayor of Maple Ridge has returned to work following a month of curtailed public appearances after the RCMP said it was investigating credible threats to her personal safety.

Mayor Nicole Read said the most recent threats topped nearly two years of online harassment, including a live thread online encouraging people to harass the mayor while she was in a Red Robin restaurant with her children.

"It's pretty serious and very concerning. It affects everybody and it certainly affects my family," she said.

"It's not something you'd think you'd have to deal with as a mayor in local government."

While RCMP haven't revealed the motive behind the latest threat, a lot of the online harassment has focused on Read's support of homeless community members.

Homelessness a divisive issue

The city has been embroiled in a divisive debate over how to address the area's homelessness crisis, precipitated by the creation of a homeless camp along Cliff Avenue in May 2015.

Those residents were relocated to a temporary shelter in October 2015.

Read said B.C. Housing committed to housing the shelter residents — which Read says were described to her by B.C. Housing as the "most vulnerable in metro Vancouver" — within six months.

That's when plans hit a roadblock, she said.

The first plan put forward by B.C. Housing and Minister of Housing Rich Coleman to convert a Quality Inn to a shelter space was rejected by area MLAs, Read said.

A second plan to build housing was also opposed by area MLAs, she added.

"It's absolutely deplorable in my mind that we have had some of our more vulnerable people sitting in a shelter that is totally inadequately put together and was only meant to be an emergency response," she said.

"They've been there now since October of 2015 with no housing."

Homeless people in Maple Ridge created a protest tent city in a green space that was supposed to be turned into a park. The City of Maple Ridge has filed an injunction against the campers. (Liz Hoath)

On May 31, the city closed the temporary shelter, but that inspired protesters to set up a homeless camp on municipal park land.

The city has now applied for an injunction against the camp. The matter will be heard at B.C. Supreme Court today.

'Unique in the level of hate'

In the meantime, Maple Ridge's homeless citizens have been targeted and residents of the shelter have been attacked.

Some residents describe shelter residents being run off roads, hit with pipes, or have smoke bombs thrown at them.

Mayor Read says the response is deeply concerning.

Something is obviously seething under the surface for some people.- Mayor Nicole Read

"I think Maple Ridge is unique in the level of hate that we're seeing ... You don't expect the city that you love and that you live in where so many amazing people live — you don't expect to see this kind of hate.

"Something is obviously seething under the surface for some people. I think the hate is being driven by a very small vocal minority because when I'm out and about in the community they thank me for the work that we're doing on homelessness and explain that they're supportive."

Read says that support for change is evident in the fact that her community has elected two new NDP MLAs.

"Obviously the community decided it was time for our former MLAs to go and to have some change," she explained.

Read says she's optimistic a change in government could make a difference.

"Right now, we're waiting and we need to see who forms government," she said. "[NDP Housing critic] David Eby made a statement that they'd definitely be turning their attention to it, and I believe that they will."

Listen to Mayor Nicole Read on CBC's The Early Edition: