British Columbia

8 arrested as Victoria police enforce order to clear tent encampments

Eight people were taken into custody Sunday as officers enforced an evacuation order issued last week for the Pandora Avenue corridor.

Officers removed remaining campers from Pandora Avenue but not tents at Beacon Hill Park

Victoria police and city crews cleared out the remaining campers and their belongings at the tent city on Pandora Avenue on Sunday. (James Roberts/CBC)

Eight people have been arrested as officials work to clear tent camps in Victoria.

A statement from Victoria police said the eight were taken into custody Sunday as officers enforced an evacuation order issued last week for the Pandora Avenue corridor.

All those arrested were taken to police headquarters and their property was removed, but police say it will be held in safekeeping and returned "under direction of Victoria bylaw.''

The province had set a deadline of May 20 to remove the campers from Pandora Avenue and Topaz Park due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. VicPD said the campers at Topaz Park were cleared out earlier that week. 

More than 300 people have been housed in Victoria-area hotels and motels as well as in modular accommodations at a local arena since efforts began last month to clear the camps.

The police statement said police and bylaw officers, B.C. Housing staff and social services agency staff provided "every possible opportunity'' for campers to depart without enforcement action.

90 people at Beacon Hill Park

Meanwhile, fans of Beacon Hill Park in Victoria say they're dismayed by city council's recent decision to continue letting about 90 people keep their tents set up in the park during the day. 

City bylaws state that people camping in the city's parks have to clear their tent and belongings by 7 a.m. each day, but on Thursday, city council passed a motion to continue allowing people to leave their tents set up during the day until June 25. 

Thursday's motion doesn't apply to those living in the tent cities at Topaz Park and on Pandora Avenue.

Friends of Beacon Hill Park president Roy Fletcher says he's concerned about some of the garbage left behind by the larger clusters of tents in the park. (James Roberts/CBC)

The shelter-in-place motion has been in place since shortly after a provincial state of emergency was declared in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said, ideally, no one should be living outside. 

"Everyone should be able to stay at home if they're sick, and for people living in tents, they don't have that option," Helps said. 

The motion also called for city workers to allow up to 72 hours before they remove shelters and belongings that are abandoned or unoccupied, at which point they can be held for 30 days. 

'Jewel of Victoria'

Roy Fletcher, president of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society, said he has received a flood of emails since the motion passed on Thursday from people concerned about the campers and their potential impact on the park. 

"Many of the camps are moving close to or trampling some of the rare plants," Fletcher said. "It might be four or five years before we see them again."

Fletcher said the park is the "jewel of Victoria" and he's afraid the tents will turn into a permanent encampment. 

There are individual tents as well as about 10 clusters of campers throughout the park, Fletcher said, many of them hidden in some of its natural areas. He said the larger clusters are especially concerning because of the garbage left behind.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says there are about 90 people living in tents in Beacon Hill Park. (James Roberts/CBC)

Some residents are also worried about safety, Fletcher said, because they find the campers threatening.

Helps says she understands those concerns, but the 200-acre park is large enough for people to spread out. 

"It's not an ideal situation and I wish that there were enough spaces for everyone to move inside," she said.

With files from Maryse Zeidler and The Canadian Press


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