British Columbia

Officials seize propane tanks from Maple Ridge homeless camp

Fire department officials and bylaw officers from the City of Maple Ridge entered the Anita Place homeless camp over the weekend to seize items they say pose a fire and safety hazard to residents.

Community advocate says camp residents left in the cold

The City of Maple Ridge said it inspected all of the tents and removed "a significant number" of propane tanks residents use for heating and cooking. (Submitted by the City of Maple Ridge)

Fire department officials and bylaw officers from the City of Maple Ridge entered the Anita Place homeless camp over the weekend to seize items they say pose a fire and safety hazard to residents.

Accompanied by RCMP officers and private security guards, they inspected all of the tents and other structures and removed dozens of items including propane tanks, patio heaters, propane barbecues, and gas-powered generators, angering residents who rely on them for warmth.

Listen Chen, a community organizer, said the seizure left camp residents out in the cold.

"It's going to be below zero degrees [Saturday night]," said Chen. "People are going to be freezing with no alternative."

Fire and safety hazards

Anita Place was established by homeless people and their supporters in May 2017 to protest the closure of a 40-bed shelter in Maple Ridge. Since then, residents of the camp and their lawyers have fought off two attempts by the City of Maple Ridge to evict them in the courts.

Resident have set up tents and makeshift homes and brought in propane-powered implements for heating and cooking. The city says those items represent a fire hazard.

In a news release, the city said it asked BC Hydro on Friday to turn off power to a modular trailer containing bathroom facilities and a communal warming tent after it found the electrical control panel was exposed to the elements and that it had been tampered with.

The city said camp residents had been warned numerous times that this posed a risk of electrocution. Fire officials also found an 80-pound propane tank rigged to refill smaller 20-pound tanks, posing "an extreme fire hazard."

Legal battle

The city obtained a court injunction on Feb. 8 in which B.C. Supreme Court Judge J. Christopher Grauer recognized the risks at the camp, including tents pitched close together, dangerous electrical wiring, and the presence of propane and gasoline near open flames.

Chen said the city was trying to drive people out of the camp by making it unlivable.