Melissa Burkhart, Discontent City resident, said she was hit by a bottle when rocks and bottles were tossed into the camp and blames the attitude by people opposed to the camp on the attitudes of city officials. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo fire chief takes heat for tent city fire safety order

Tent city advocates accuse Nanaimo fire chief of legitimizing ‘anti-homeless hate’

Discontent City advocates aimed some heated accusations against Nanaimo’s fire chief while defying a fire safety compliance order.

The order, issued by the Supreme Court of B.C. on July 18, required safety measures to guard against accidental fires that include, among other measures, not having open flame inside tents, keeping tents at least one metre apart, and removing combustible tarps.

Discontent City organizers and supporters argued Thursday that removing tarps used for shade is unsafe given the current wave of hot weather and accused the city and Karen Fry, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief and city director of public safety, of using the order as a tool to dismantle the tent city out of fear it might not win its case in B.C. Supreme Court to have Discontent City removed.

According to a social media post by the Alliance Against Displacement, “together we pushed the city to co-operate with B.C. Housing to provide resources (rather than police force) to improve fire safety at the camp.”

RELATED: Nanaimo’s Discontent City campers resisting fire safety order

Mercedes Courtoreille, Discontent City advocate, said yesterday that because Discontent City is a “trespass,” the city was unwilling to help camp residents comply with the order.

“The city was so afraid of losing the injunction, because their case is not strong, that they’re now using the fire department to win and to dismantle the camp,” said Courtoreille.

Melissa Burkart, camp resident, said she has had bottles thrown at her and said abusive behaviour toward Discontent City residents is fostered through attitudes by city officials.

“I honestly think that’s being encouraged by this attitude from Karen Fry and from the officials in the fire department…” Burkhart said. “They can’t directly victimize us so they’re doing it by taking away our tarps and taking away our ability to stay cool.”

Listen Chen, with the Alliance Against Displacement, said at the Anita Place tent city in Maple Ridge, B.C. Housing works with campers to bring the tent city into fire safety compliance.

“The province is trying to support people there, which I think further demonstrates that Karen Fry is clearly a cowboy fire chief who is bending to the political whims of municipal office … Karen Fry bending to anti-homeless hate will only further legitimize it across the province when it’s already a huge issue in small towns,” she said.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Don’t pay water bill, tent city doesn’t

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Community is enabling tent city campers

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: City victimizing victims at Discontent City

Karen Fry said in an e-mail that the provincial fire order is issued under the Office of the Fire Commissioner and not under Nanaimo city bylaws.

“This order has been reviewed and is consistent with other tent cities,” Fry said.

Fry went on to say the occupants of Discontent City and their legal team were provided with the order six weeks ago and have had “plenty of time to address the requirements.”

“We are required to address these issues,” she said. “I believe that the courts will not be pleased with their contempt of the order.”

Meanwhile, although Discontent City residents said Thursday they would bar police, bylaws and fire officials from entering the encampment, police and other city officials were not met with barricades when they toured the camp Friday morning.



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