British Columbia

Campers ordered out of Victoria's Centennial Square due to criminal activity

Homeless people camping in Victoria's Centennial Square have until Tuesday to pack up and move, following complaints from local business owners who say their economic survival is threatened by an explosion of property crime in the area.

Council was seeking way to 'better manage' camp following police bust of alleged drug trafficking ring

The City of Victoria has ordered campers out of Centennial Square, following the discovery an alleged drug trafficking ring. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Homeless people camping in Victoria's Centennial Square have until Tuesday to pack up and move, following complaints from local business owners who say their economic survival is threatened by an explosion of property crime in the area.

The city said Monday in a statement that the order was made Friday to close "select areas" of the park where it had previously said there was an "untenable and unsafe" situation.

"We recognize every person has the right to shelter and that COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges faced by vulnerable populations," the statement said.

"However, Centennial Square has become entrenched with a criminal element that demands greater action to protect the public, businesses and those seeking shelter."

The Victoria Police Department announced trafficking charges last week against 17 people who allegedly used tents in Centennial Square to sell fentanyl and other drugs. 

Police said the undercover investigation that led to the charges was prompted by an increase in violent crime linked to the drug trade in the area around Centennial Square, including multiple assaults, two stabbings and the shooting of windows at city hall with a compressed air gun.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps convened a closed-door meeting of council Aug. 27 to discuss the city's legal authority to restrict homeless camping during the pandemic and provincial state of emergency.

She said at the time that city staff were working on options to "better manage" activity in the square.

Friday's order to close the park was made through Parks Regulation Bylaws, which allow the closure of parks and open spaces where hazardous conditions exist, according to the city's statement. 

Police arrested five of 17 people charged with drug trafficking from tents in Victoria's Centennial Square, just outside City Hall, following an undercover investigation. (CHEK News)

People living in the park have until Tuesday to relocate to other places, the statement said. 

The city said cleaning and remediation, including landscape restoration, will begin once the relocation is complete.

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