The City of Nanaimo wants the occupants of an unsanctioned campground on Port Drive gone and has taken legal action to make it happen.
A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia by the city, requesting a statutory injunction to have the Discontent City dismantled and its occupants removed, according to court documents, which claim the camp is causing “actual harm” to people, has led to a surge of crime in the area and violates bylaws.
The petition names Mercedes Courtoreille, Gina Watson, Mike Pindar, Mystie Wintoneak, Kent Sexton, Dean Kory and “other unknown persons” as the respondents. It also includes 21 affidavits from business owners, residents and city staff including John Horn, the city’s social planner.
Discontent City, currently the unofficial home of more than 100 individuals, was established on May 17. Since its establishment, city workers, under the watch of around a dozen RCMP officers, removed a small section of fencing that surrounds a campsite at Esplanade and Front Street. The city has also issued trespassing notices, ordering protesters to vacate the city-owned property and council has pledged to remove the camp.
The city’s petition, which makes a number of claims and accusations against the respondents as well as occupants of Discontent City, argues that the camp’s existence violates bylaws and is a safety hazard. It also claims nearby businesses and residents have reported a “marked increase” in theft, shoplifting, discarded needles and loitering in the area and that camp occupants are brandishing knives, aggressively panhandling and intimidating people.
It specifically accuses the respondents of urinating, leaving garbage on nearby properties and stealing water, as well as engaging in drug dealing, drug use and prostitution.
The petition alleges an instance when the camp occupants surrounded and hit a vehicle near Port Place mall after a driver honked at occupants who were “loitering” in her way.
Another instance alleges law enforcement discovered “underage girls” and runaways despite the camp’s own rules which state that all occupants must be adults.
Troy DeSouza, the city’s legal counsel, said he’ll be applying for a short-notice order in court on Monday to determine when a hearing can take place and is hoping for a two-day hearing next week.
“There are a lot of moving parts here. I can’t say exactly when it would be heard,” he said, adding that it all depends on availability and whether a judge will even be willing to hear the case.
DeSouza, who has represented the municipalities of Duncan and Victoria in similar cases involving tent cities, said Nanaimo’s case is based on the violation of bylaws and trespassing.
“That’s how we are proceeding,” he said. “I don’t think there is any defence on the trespass and I don’t think there is a legitimate defence for the bylaw breaches. What the occupants will be looking for is some form of equitable argument and they can make that in court.”
While he said the City of Nanaimo respects those who are genuinely homeless, DeSouza said the city is expected to keep in mind the entire community.
“We as a local government have to act in the best interest of the entire community, not just the occupants that are there, but the members of the public, the members of the businesses, the RCMP, all the folks that are involved, quite frankly, in being preoccupied by this tent city and we need to come to grips with that and get a court order to end it,” he said.
Noah Ross, legal counsel for Discontent City, said the city’s injunction was expected, adding that he’s disappointed that the city has still not provided any alternative housing for the campers and that he will fight the short-notice order being sought.
“The first step is resisting that short-leave application,” he said.
Ross said he hasn’t fully reviewed the court documents and cannot comment on the allegations made by the city at this time. He said he will file “as many” affidavits as the city’s legal counsel has filed and said he has evidence from local business owners who state that they’re seeing fewer homeless people on the streets as a result of the camp.
“Some of that has shifted towards the mall, but as anyone who lives within downtown Nanaimo knows, the mall has been the spot where there’s lower-income people, before the camp and after the camp,” he said. “I think the evidence is exaggerated.”
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Discontent City better than alternatives