NEWS
06/03/2016 16:27 EDT | Updated 06/04/2017 01:12 EDT

Safety issues, increased crime reasons to shut down tent city: B.C. government

VICTORIA — British Columbia's housing minister says the province now has a stronger case for evicting campers who have set up a tent city on the lawn of Victoria's courthouse.

The government has filed a second injunction application to dismantle the camp, citing unsafe conditions, increased criminal activity and the availability of housing for people in need.

An application for a temporary injunction was denied by the B.C. Supreme Court in April following a three-day hearing where many of the campers testified.

"It's very frustrating when you have the housing available, you have the supports available and you go to the courts and you're not given the ability to move on it," said Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for housing.

More than 100 people have been living in tents on the lawn of the courthouse since last November, sparking complaints from neighbours about violence, crime and drugs.

Coleman said the province has tried to work with both residents of the camp and the neighbourhood, and has installed plumbing for running water, flush toilets and hot showers.

But problems continue to plague the site.

The City of Victoria voted last month to increase the police budget so more officers could conduct regular patrols in the area.

A fire-safety report submitted last week said the campers aren't complying with safety orders and there are life-threatening dangers at the site.

The province has been collecting evidence that conditions at the camp are dangerous and that the crime problem has grown in the area in order to bolster its argument for an injunction. 

"Unfortunately, in order to get there, to where we think the injunction is stronger, the site had to get worse and not better," Coleman said.

Sixty-nine affidavits were submitted with the new injunction application, and Coleman said they show that the tent city is unsafe and that even early supporters believe it's time for the campers to move on.

He said the province has enough room to house people in need, and is about to announce the creation of an additional 140 units, so everyone who needs a place to stay can have one.

"There's no real reason not to move on and have a place to go inside in a decent, clean environment with the supports they need," he said.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Hinkson cited a lack of available housing as a prime reason for denying the province's original application for an injunction.

Coleman said the new housing not only bolsters the government's case, but shows that there is a long-term solution to the problem.

"I think we have a stronger set of information in regards to this situation than the first time we went to court," he said.

Hinkson has said he will hear the injunction application June 27 and 28.

-- By Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver