British Columbia

Oppenheimer homeless camp to be evicted after injunction granted

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has issued an injunction to evict homeless protesters living in a park on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, rejecting their assertion of a constitutional right to remain there.

Pivot Legal Society was fighting Vancouver Park Board push to evict homeless protesters

Oppenheimer campers in their own words

9 years ago
Duration 1:58
Audio slideshow tells story of why they're there

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has issued an injunction to evict homeless protesters living in a park in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, rejecting their assertion of a constitutional right to remain there.

Justice Jennifer Duncan's ruling means the estimated 175 to 200 people camping in Oppenheimer Park must clear out by 10 p.m. PT next Wednesday.

In late September, the city asked the court for an injunction to allow it to move in and dismantle the camp, alleging it is out of control as a result of drug use, violence and a lack of leadership.

The injunction was opposed in court on behalf of the campers by the Pivot Legal Society, which argued they have a constitutional right to remain in the camp since it was safer than living in shelters.

Oppenheimer park campers expressed their disappointment outside the court. (CBC)

Speaking outside the court on Wednesday, campers expressed their disappointment at the ruling, saying Single Room Occupancy hotels are infested and do not provide a healthy place for the homeless.

Organizer Brody Williams said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson "must get serious about homelessness," while the lawyer representing the campers, DJ Larkin, added, "Until we have a national housing plan, we will keep seeing tent cities popping up."

Gun, fires and propane found at camp

In her ruling, Justice Duncan said park bylaws had been repeatedly violated by the camp and there were no exceptional circumstances to prevent the injunction.

In addition, she said, city staff found candles, smoking in tents and ceremonial fires at Oppenheimer Park. Police found a gun and propane tanks in the camp, she added.

Duncan said it was also important to look at the background of the case.

The city had already asked the campers to leave but they did not, she said, leading to several local events being cancelled.

Oppenheimer park camper Swampy told reporters, "We wanted order in the camp," but didn't get that from some so-called leaders. (CBC)

The judge also noted many of the people at the camp are in challenging situations, citing the case of one man who uses a wheelchair, who finds it easier to stay at the camp than shelters because of his mobility issues.

Duncan also stated that hearsay evidence indicated Oppenheimer Park campers included hard-to-house people and a Canadian Afghanistan war veteran.

Judge: Camp organizer tried to keep peace

She noted that Williams had tried to keep the peace and work with the city, and other campers had emphasized the need for transitioning from the park to stable housing.

Oppenheimer park campers say they are looking to try to take their case to the Supreme Court of Canada. (CBC)

One First Nations camper, Duncan said, thought an injunction would violate his charter rights, but also felt the park needed to be vacated.

On the city’s response to the camp, Duncan noted that city staff and charitable organizations had tried to help the campers.

The city said it offered all of the residents spaces in homeless shelters, Duncan noted. Streamlining a transition for the homeless people in the park was beyond her scope, however, she said.

The homeless campers began living in Oppenheimer Park in the summer to highlight a lack of affordable housing.

They now say they are looking at trying to take their case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Oppenheimer homeless camp ruling: As it happened

Follow digital reporter Dan Burritt's blog of the decision and response as it happened in the box below.

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