Dozens and dozens of concerned residents showed up at Rutherford Elementary School in response to the Schoolhouse Squat.
At least 100 people, including members of the Soldiers of Odin Vancouver Island, showed up in the north end Friday night to voice their concerns about the presence of homeless people and activists living inside the unused school.
It was the latest development in the protest action that began earlier in the day, when Alliance Against Displacement, supporters and occupants of Discontent City broke into the school as part of a campaign called Schoolhouse Squat, which encourages people to occupy unused schools and buildings as part of a larger movement protesting the government’s “hatred” toward homeless people.
Witnesses told the News Bulletin that there were speeches from organizers of Discontent City and members of Alliance Against Displacement and chants from the Soldiers of Odin and others on Friday night at around 9 p.m.
The organizers are making a legal claim, arguing that removal from Rutherford would violate their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, according to a post on Facebook.
“We are making claim that displacing us from the Schoolhouse Squat would violate our Section 7 charter right to security of the person and protection of personal belongings … Our use of the Rutherford School as housing is not interrupting or inconveniencing any other use of this public property; we are causing no harm to any other person or community by improving homeless peoples’ access to security of the person and protection of belongings,” the post said.
A GoFundMe page as also been established in support of Schoolhouse Squat. It has raised $65 so far.
Speaking to the News Bulletin, Conrad Peach, president of the Soldiers of Odin Vancouver Island, an anti-illegal immigration group, said his members came out to support the neighbourhood and the community.
“Nanaimo has been held hostage long enough by these people,” said Peach, who is running for city council. “Enough is enough. They got what they wanted.”
He said the ongoing lack of action by the Nanaimo RCMP is concerning but nothing new. He said he believes if he were to do the same thing the activists are doing, he would be instantly arrested.
“I would be in jail in two seconds if I walked into a school and started camping,” he said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve seen police inaction on this thing. It has been going on for months and the citizens are fed up, we are fed up and the city is done with being held hostage.”
Avel Turnip, who is Peach’s running mate in the upcoming election, said she and many others are frustrated with what has happened.
“This is not how you ask for help. They got their housing and here they are taking a school. So when do they draw the line? When do we draw the line and stop this?”
Turnip said there needs to be more housing options in Nanaimo as well as better education, which she feels will help address many of the issues around homelessness and poverty.
“A lot of the these people don’t have the skills to keep a job. Getting them a job isn’t enough, we have to teach them the skills to keep a job and that is part of the overall problem that has resulted in this,” she said.
Trevor Burns, who lives in the area, said he came out to Rutherford to see what action the police would take, adding that while he isn’t majorly concerned with what is going on at the school, he doesn’t agree with it.
“I don’t necessarily disagree with building some kind of shelter for them, although I don’t agree that is where my tax dollar should go, but I am more OK with that than this,” he said, referring to the occupation of Rutherford school.
Burns said he also understands why the RCMP can’t take any action at the moment.
“They can only do so much,” he said. “They have to follow orders.”
Numerous other residents told the News Bulletin that they’re also very concerned about the Schoolhouse Squat campaign, and wondered why the police weren’t acting.
Nanaimo RCMP officers on scene wouldn’t provide a comment to the News Bulletin, but did comment about the situation earlier in the evening.