The eviction of Nanaimo’s Discontent City will be slower and less prisoncampified, rules Supreme Court Judge
The court-imposed deadline for the eviction of Discontent City was Friday October 12th and the City of Nanaimo made it clear they were not going to hesitate. Days before eviction day, Discontent City supporters recorded Nanaimo’s director of public safety saying that anyone remaining on the site after midnight on the 12th could be arrested. Discontent City made an emergency call for help and launched an emergency appeal to the court deadline. At the last minute, these efforts made a difference. Rather than a sudden break, where the 300 to 400 people living in the camp would be uprooted and scattered across town, the eviction of Discontent City will be gradual. And, if the City and police follow the ruling of the Judge, Discontent City will not be prisoncampified through this process.
Discontent City’s application to vary the Supreme Court order was represented by their lawyer Noah Ross, who also represented the camp against Nanaimo’s injunction application. Ross believed that if the Supreme Court had known that BC Housing would offer 170 units of temporary housing for camp residents and support to the City to manage the camp until that housing opens, the eviction deadline would have been different. Ross explains, “I argued that there had been a change of circumstances since Justice Skolrood’s Sept 21 Order was made because BC Housing has announced 220 supportive housing spaces and rental subsidies in Nanaimo and requested that Discontent City be allowed to stay open ‘til late November.”
The City’s lawyers argued against this appeal because the City wanted to keep the power to break the camp whenever they want, and to control who is in the camp and who they can shut out. The City argued that if Justice Skolrod varied the deadline, it should be with the condition that he still grant the City and police the power to take control over the camp.
Discontent City won the delay, extending the eviction deadline. Ross says Skolrod “recognized that it was the original intent of his order to allow campers to be able to transition from camp to housing, so camp should stay ‘til housing is available.” That means that the camp will stay populated until the temporary trailer camp housing promised by BC Housing is opened, which the Court estimates to be November 30th. City lawyers won some conditions that will increase the power police have over the everyday administration of the camp.
Skolrod has barred vehicles, trailers, and structures. Discontent City is the first tent city in BC to openly include homeless people hidden in cars and trailers. There have been around two-dozen cars, trailers, and campers in the camp for the last couple months. This order means that the car-homeless will be evicted by 9am Friday October 26th. But the struggle of the camp has won some concessions for these car-homeless too: BC Housing has promised to subsidize pad rentals and camping spots for car-homeless who have been stranded by the recently increased cost of parking a car or trailer.
Skolrod has barred any person under the age of 19 from entering Discontent City at any time. The longstanding policy of Discontent City has been to not allow young people under 19 to stay in camp. If a youth came into camp, the policy was for a council member or someone who knows them to sit with them in the public kitchen area, and to call the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD). This policy was complicated because the truth is that some young people are part of the street and homeless community. Some said they feel more safe and comfortable in the tent city than in their foster home, a sentiment that a youth advocate recently backed up with claims that the foster system is a “superhighway” to homelessness. Skolrod’s ruling will sever non-nuclear familial connections between homeless adults and youth, and push homeless youth back into the shadows.
The City also asked the Courts for the power to authorize only certain visitors to the camp and to block unauthorized guests. When Saanich successfully closed Camp Namegans, the court was not been specific about this and the police used the opportunity to segregate the campers, shutting out more and more visitors until only lawyers and approved social workers were allowed onsite. Noah Ross says, “I argued that taking homeless people’s rights to visitors away was a cruel and punitive tool to use against people that were just staying at the camp because they wanted housing.” In the end Skolrod refused to grant the City the power to legislate who is and is not allowed in Discontent City.
However, he did require residents of the camp to register with BC Housing. His ruling says, “By 5 pm on [Friday] October 26, any occupant at Discontent City who wishes to enter into the alternative housing must provide ID or agree to have their photograph taken by service providers and give them their full name.” Anyone who refuses to register with BC Housing must leave camp.
The Supreme Court’s decision to break up Discontent City still stands, but the camp has won a minor concession in the Court’s support for a delayed eviction, and has avoided the Saanich model of prisoncampifying the tent city. This delay also highlights an inconsistency in the logic of the Court ruling. Justice Skolrod awarded the City the power to break up Discontent City without offering housing or shelter because he found the camp is inherently harmful to residents and neighbours. When presented the opportunity to hold off on the eviction of camp until housing can be built, he agreed. But when eviction day finally does arrive, most residents will be evicted to the streets, not into housing. Skolrod’s court orders seem conditioned by what governments say is possible, and the timelines and budgets they present, not on the rights of homeless people (and others) within the law. This suggests what anti-capitalist and anti-colonial activists have been saying for decades: the courts are instruments of the state and ruling class, not a space of justice.