Crews remove a gate from Discontent City at the property at Esplanade and Front Street Tuesday. (NEWS BULLETIN photo)

Gate taken away from Nanaimo’s Discontent City

Campers resist removal of gate from what had been a fenced-in site

A number of campers were arrested and others were visibly upset after municipal workers cut down a piece of fence surrounding Discontent City camp on Tuesday morning.

Under the watch of around a dozen RCMP officers, Nanaimo city workers removed a small section of fencing that surrounds a campsite at Esplanade and Front Street. They were met with resistance from a number of the camp’s occupants. As a result, Nanaimo RCMP briefly detained three individuals, while others looked on in tears.

Mercedes Courtoreille, an advocate who camped at the tent city at Nanaimo city hall earlier this year, said the removal of the gate leaves those living at Discontent City extremely vulnerable.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said, later calling it a violation of charter rights.

Discontent City was established last Thursday and has a population of roughly 50 residents and additional guests are also on site according to Courtoreille, who said they have received all kinds of death threats on social media and from those who walk by the site.

Courtoreille said the removal of the fenced gate has further hurt relations with the city and police and with the gate gone, everyone is less safe. She said she just wants respect from the RCMP and the city.

“We want the city to respect the fact that these [tents] are homes,” she said. “Respect the need for safety, especially if you’re homeless, you’re vulnerable.”

Coun. Gord Fuller, who was there during the removal of the fence and later dropped off cases of water, said the city took down the fence for safety reasons.

“If there is a fire in here, firefighters need to get in here. If there is a death, or a threat of a death, ambulance needs to get in. If there is a fight that breaks out the RCMP need to get in here,” he said. “It’s simply a safety issue.”

Fuller said he isn’t aware of any plans to remove the campers, adding that if the city or the RCMP really wanted to do so, they could remove an entire row of fencing that is closest to the Gabriola Island. He said the campers are raising an important issue, but the issue isn’t just in Nanaimo.

“It brings light to a huge problem, but the problem doesn’t just exist in Nanaimo,” Fuller said. “The only time these things have ever really accomplished anything towards housing is when they have been on provincial property, because then the province … will throw money at it.”

Fuller said council will likely be discussing Discontent City at its next meeting. He said the most important thing is that “this place needs to be safe.”

Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP media spokesman, said the four individuals detained were not charged. He said the RCMP and emergency services need to have the ability to access Discontent City.

“We do not need their permission to enter the property and we will [enter] for their safety and for the safety of the public at any time,” he said.

O’Brien said he believed the RCMP showed the “utmost respect” to all the individuals at the camp site. He said officers will patrol the site.

“We just want to keep an eye on it from time to time,” he said. “We do not plan to do 24-hour vigilance on it but we will do walkthroughs periodically, but certainly if there are any complaints that arise, we will be there as well.”

Mike Pindar, one of the campers, said he isn’t sure what they’ll do now that the gate has been removed.

“As long as these people stay in these gates we are not going anywhere,” Pender said.

RELATED: New tent city being set up on south downtown waterfront

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