British Columbia

False Creek boat-dweller defiant in the face of 16 counts of anchoring without a permit

Vancouver resident Shawn Wilson made a brief court appearance in B.C. Provincial Court on Thursday facing 16 counts of anchoring a vessel in False Creek without a permit. But after living rent free on boats for about 15 years, he doesn't plan to change his lifestyle.

Shawn Wilson has a three-day trial scheduled for June in Vancouver

Shawn Wilson steers his dinghy back to shore as his sailboat floats in the background. Wilson is facing 16 counts of anchoring in False Creek without a permit, and has a trial scheduled for June. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Shawn Wilson has been around the water his whole life.

He grew up living in a house boat in Lund, B.C., has worked in commercial fishing, now works as a boat caretaker and helps rescue vessels around Vancouver that drag anchor or run aground.

His dog, a Belgian shepherd named Sage, has been trained to jump onto the dock, catch a rope in her mouth and pull in Wilson's dinghy.

Since about 2005, Wilson has lived on boats in False Creek, but the lifestyle has landed him in some legal hot water.

He's now facing 16 counts of anchoring a vessel in False Creek without a permit. On Thursday, Wilson made a brief court appearance with the assistance of University of British Columbia second-year law student Kes Posgate.

Defendant Shawn Wilson stands outside the B.C. Provincial Courthouse in Vancouver on Jan. 24 speaking with Kes Posgate, a University of British Columbia second-year law student who's helping with his case. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Wilson is contesting the charges and a three-day trial has now been scheduled for mid-June.

But whatever the outcome, the boat-dweller doesn't plan to change anything about his salty lifestyle.

"I guess most of the appeal is just freedom," said Wilson after his court appearance. "Just going where you want to go, when you want to go. And if you don't like your neighbours you can just move."

Fortunately, Wilson likes his neighbours where he drops anchor near Charleson Park, east of Granville Island. They're other boat people like him — living without rent or mortgages, and doing what they can to avoid police enforcement and fines.

Members of the Vancouver Police Department speak to people anchored near Shawn Wilson's boat in False Creek. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"There's about a dozen of us that live in [False Creek] permanently, full time, and sometimes it's like a cat-and-mouse thing," he said.

A free permit from the Park Board allows boaters to anchor their vessels in False Creek for 14 out of 30 days from April through September and 21 out of 40 days during the cold months. Anyone can anchor for eight hours a day before 11 p.m.

Wilson says he and his friends use the free sewage pump-out station at the municipal marinas, and during the warm, busy months, a mobile pump-out service contracted by the city makes the rounds in False Creek.

So live-aboard people like Wilson, who don't want to pay to moor at the local marinas, are constantly shuffling their boats around, trying not to overstay their welcome and draw the attention of Vancouver police officers tasked with enforcement.

A swan swims by Shawn Wilson's boat in False Creek. Wilson says some of his neighbours call it Charlotte, but he prefers the name Swany. Wilson feeds the regular visitor grain-free dog kibbles. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Wilson estimates he gets a couple dozen notices from the police each year, usually what he calls "friendly warnings."

But despite the regular hassle and current legal issue, he's not planning a move. He rails against the high price of housing in Vancouver and believes fundamentally that people ought to be allowed to do what he's doing.

"We live here and we just want to live in peace with the rest of the community," said Wilson. "People should have the freedom to live how they live so long as we're not harming others."


Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

About the Author

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker

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