Local activist Tim Felger says occupants of a homeless protest camp on the former MSA Hospital grounds should be allowed to stay to spread their message about harm reduction and the need for more affordable housing and social services.
But lawyers representing the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) said the campers are occupying private land and need to go.
The two sides appeared Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, where FHA was seeking a court injunction to oust the campers from the McCallum Road property, which they have been occupying since mid-July.
The property is owned by FHA and has been undeveloped since the former hospital was demolished in 2009 and replaced by Abbotsford Regional Hospital on Marshall Road.
Currently, about a dozen campers are living on land on the northeast portion of the property.
The judge will release his decision at a later date on whether to issue the injunction.
Felger, who said he formed the camp as a protest by the Drug War Survivors, represented the campers in court.
He argued that the property is public land, and the occupants have every right to reside there. He said there have been other campers on the site over the last seven years without any issues, except for two instances where police reports were filed.
“The parks aren’t safe for us,” Felger said, adding that local shelters are full, when the judge asked him why the occupants don’t move elsewhere. A decision last year gave campers the right to stay overnight in all but three parks in Abbotsford, although shelters must be taken down in the morning.
However, although Felger argued the land in question is public property, he asked for an order to have certain members of the camp removed – in particular, Danau Evans, the only individual specifically named in the FHA’s court application.
Felger alleged that Evans has “threatened and terrorized” members of the Drug War Survivors and has detracted from their message.
“I think we should be allowed to determine who accesses the protest camp,” he said.
The judge questioned why Felger felt he had more right to the property than any other person. Felger said he believes the Drug War Survivors’ protest serves a useful purpose – educating and informing the public about the need for harm reduction and other social services – while Evans is having a “negative community impact.”
Meanwhile, lawyer James Goulden, representing FHA, said the campers have no right to be there.
“What we have here is private property they’re not entitled to use,” he said.
Goulden said the camp creates “serious concerns” about safety and liability and has deteriorated over time.
He said the site includes five or six tents, couches, tarps, tools, clothing, garbage and drug paraphernalia.
Goulden said local residents have become fearful of using a bus stop near the camp and have expressed other concerns about the camp.
He said the Drug War Survivors (DWS) are breaching the Trespass Act and their right to protest does not warrant unlimited access to private land.
DWS is the same group that previously set up camps in Jubilee Park and along Gladys Avenue. Both camps were dismantled following action by the city and the courts.
FHA initiated court action against the group after previous attempts – including written and verbal notices – did not result in them vacating the former hospital land.
Abbotsford Police indicated they could not enforce their removal without a court order.