British Columbia

Victoria to pay police force to protect bylaw officers visiting homeless camps in city parks

Victoria's police chief says bylaw officers have been threatened with violence by some campers. City council voted to spend $75,000 on police officers who will accompany city staff to parks occupied by campers.

Police chief says threats of violence from some campers putting city staff at risk

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak says city bylaw officers have previously had to call police after being threatened with violence while checking on campers and park grounds. (The Canadian Press)

The City of Victoria is now paying its police force to protect bylaw officers who visit homeless camps in local parks after city staff said they have been faced with threats of violence.

Council approved the motion on Feb. 18 to provide police with $75,000. The money will be used to pay for two officers four hours a day, seven days a week, until the end of March. 

It is estimated there are up to 300 campers living in about 10 parks in Greater Victoria. 

Mayor Lisa Helps and police chief Del Manak told CBC it is only a few people in a few parks — not all campers — who are putting bylaw officers and other campers at risk.

"I want all our staff to be safe," Helps said during an interview on CBC's All Points West Friday.

I also would not want to be a woman living alone in a city park, said the mayor, adding those people need protection as well.

An estimated 200 to 300 people who are experiencing homelessness are sleeping in Greater Victoria parks in makeshift shelters and tents. (Gregor Craigie/CBC )

Manak, who requested the funds from council last Thursday, said two bylaw officers were chased from a park that morning by a camper brandishing a shovel and threatening to hurt them.

The pair took refuge in a vehicle and called police. 

Manak said the man was "extremely agitated and really ready to assault them." Police will now be present on park patrols to prevent that from happening.

Manak told Gregor Craigie, host of CBC's On The Island Monday, that some campers feel they have the right to do whatever they want in the parks and that can lead to confrontation with bylaw officers who visit regularly.

Not only are those visits to check on campers' needs, but also to monitor how campers and their structures are affecting park grounds.

"It's not every camper, there is a spectrum," Manak said. "It really can depend on if somebody is experiencing a drug psychosis or a mental health breakdown."

The funding is in place until March, when Helps has said all permanent camping in city parks will end.

With files from On The Island

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