The city issued an eviction notice Monday to a protest camp established at Jubilee Park, asking for tents and belongings to be removed.
Deputy city manager Jake Rudolph spoke to the media Monday, saying 48 hours’ notice had been given to remove the tents and structures for safety reasons.
The protest started in late October, when members of the Abbotsford chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors gathered to raise awareness about the needs of the city’s most marginalized residents.
The group initially planned to stay only a few days, but protest organizer Barry Shantz soon announced the peaceful protest was extended until there was a housing solution for homeless people.
Rudolph said the city has “no intentions of disrupting anyone’s right to protest,” but added that police, bylaw officers and fire services staff have noted several safety violations.
If protesters do not vacate, City of Abbotsford lawyers will apply to the B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday and seek an expedited injunction application to remove the camp.
“I personally spoke with protest organizer, Barry Shantz, last week and relayed this message to him, and the people at the site were also informed in person by staff conducting the safety checks,” said Rudolph.
Shantz said the protesters are taking advice from their lawyers, but are ready to face the injunction.
“We knew (the city was) going to come this way. We’re already preparing for the injunction and we’re happy to go to court with them and deal with this.”
Abbotsford police and fire service members have been conducting regular safety checks at the site.
Rudolph said they have found “numerous documented occurrences” of fire safety violations – including the use of propane barbecues within the tents as heat sources – as well as criminal activity, open drug use, and concerns raised by the recent arrival of sub-zero temperatures.
Fire chief Don Beer noted several fire safety issues, such as household appliances – a coffeemaker and a microwave – being run from an electrical box in the park on which the lock had been broken.
Shantz said many of the safety concerns are legitimate, “but since (the homeless have) been in the park, I’d say they’re a lot safer than they were before.”
Rudolph said the city is aware that dismantling the camp will not solve issues of homelessness and they are trying to connect homeless in the park with social agencies and service providers.
In May, the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors filed a civil suit against the City of Abbotsford over the city’s bylaw against harm reduction practices, stating the municipality overstepped its authority by prohibiting certain health services. The group also filed a human rights complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
Though the eviction notice has been issued, Shantz said the group’s protest against the city isn’t over.
“They just want this problem to go away, and it’s not going away easy.”