On June 27 and 28 residents of Victoria’s Super InTent City (SIC) were back in the British Columbia Supreme Court as Chief Justice Hinkson heard the second injunction application brought by the Province of British Columbia seeking court-enforced removal of SIC.
The Provincial government, which lost its first injunction application in March of 2016, has argued via its lawyer Warren Milman that there has been a “degeneration of conditions” at the camp since the time of the first injunction. At the end of the second day of hearing, Chief Justice Hinkson reserved his decision on the injunction application, with a result not expected until early July. If the injunction is lost, the Province has requested that the camp be dismantled on August 6th.
The SIC legal team has opposed the latest injunction application by gathering evidence that Tent City residents still feel that the camp is a safe and secure community space that is hugely beneficial to their lives and an alternative to daily displacement. Tent’s City’s lawyers have requested that SIC be allowed to stay and requested that if the camp is demolished another site be provided for homeless people to erect outdoor shelter close to downtown Victoria.
The Province’s injunction application is one element of the Province’s efforts to remove the camp from the public eye and displace its residents. Since the injunction, the Province has brought in the Portland Hotel Society to provide services to camp residents while continuing to avoid consulting residents about their own needs directly. At the same time, the Province and the Victoria City Council have collaborated to increase police presence at SIC to the point where there are currently two officers on site for twelve hours a day and numerous others regularly in attendance.
While the injunction application has been ongoing, the fire commissioner has assisted the Province’s strategy by issuing a destruction order stating that the camp should be demolished for failing to comply with fire restrictions. The fire commissioner’s order was appealed by SIC lawyers on June 24 and the hearing was adjourned until after this week’s injunction hearing. At this point the outcome of the Fire Order appeal hearing on June 30 is uncertain and it is unclear how the demolition order would be enforced.
Regardless what happens with the current legal cases, Chief Justice Hinkson’s ruling in the March injunction, which established that if there is not enough housing in a given community a well organized tent city can be established, is a lasting legacy. Municipalities and the Provincial government will attempt to push back against this but it remains as a powerful precedent for other tent cities to attempt to rely on. In addition, the Province has invested over $20 Million in temporary and permanent housing to create close to 200 new beds in Victoria, most of which according to government press releases will be lower barrier than supportive housing which has previously existed in Victoria. While the outcomes of current court struggles remain uncertain, camp residents continue to struggle for their right to shelter and control over the conditions of this shelter.
Noah Ross is an activist and articled student who has been working with the Super InTent City legal team and supporting camp residents over the past six months.