Occupants of a homeless protest camp on the former MSA Hospital grounds had not vacated the grounds as of yesterday afternoon, despite a court injunction issued on Friday.
The injunction, granted in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver by Justice Christopher Hinkson, indicated that the campers were to leave the property by 10 p.m. Monday.
Hinkson agreed with arguments made in court last Tuesday (Sept. 13) by Fraser Health Authority (FHA) lawyers that the campers were occupying private land.
The ruling stated that the individuals were to leave the property at 2179 McCallum Rd. and take with them all their belongings.
Fraser Health spokeswoman Tasleem Juma said the agency has informed the campers of the judge’s ruling and has asked them to leave.
“We hope they respect the court’s decision, and (we) will explore our options if they choose not to comply,” she said.
Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald said police cannot enforce an injunction or make arrests if it is not followed.
The next step in the process is an enforcement order, which would allow police to arrest individuals who are refusing to comply. But MacDonald said police would first work with the occupants to prevent them from being forcibly removed from the property.
Local pot activist Tim Felger, who said he organized the camp in mid-July as a protest by the Drug War Survivors, said the judge’s decision to grant the injunction is “out to lunch.”
He said on Monday that he had instructed the camp occupants to stay put.
“We are claiming it is not practical to leave and it is out of necessity that we stay. We have nowhere to go,” Felger said.
In his written decision, Hinkson said the individuals have no right to be on the site.
“The subject lands are private property and not intended for public use at least since the closure of the MSA Hospital in 2009,” he said.
Felger argued in court that there have been other campers on the site since the former hospital was demolished seven years ago, and freedom of expression entitled them to protest on what he said is public land.
He said he started the camp as a mean of spreading information and awareness about the “drug war,” harm reduction and the need for more affordable housing and social services.
Currently, about a dozen campers and five or six tents are located on an unfenced portion of the property in question.
He said local shelters are full, and the individuals involved don’t feel safe camping in parks.
Fraser Health argued that the individuals are not entitled to be on the land, and their presence causes safety and liability concerns.
The agency took the campers to court after written and verbal notices to evict them hadn’t worked.
Two prior DWS camps – one in Jubilee Park and the other on Gladys Avenue – went through similar court action to force the campers to vacate the properties.
Once court injunctions were obtained, the individuals peacefully left the camps.
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.
Basil Toomer with the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, which runs the 40-bed shelter on Riverside Road that opened at the end of last year, said that the facility is full or nearly full every night.