On Tuesday, city workers dumped manure on a small area on the side of Gladys Avenue across from the Salvation Army, a common area for homeless people to gather and sleep, and known by some who frequent the area as “The Happy Tree.”
Banman met with reporters on Thursday at the site, which has since been cleaned by city workers. He said that he, city council and city staff are “deeply apologetic” for the incident.
The mayor said he had no knowledge that the manure was going to be dumped, and said it is not part of any concerted effort to displace Abbotsford’s homeless population.
Yesterday afternoon, city manager George Murray issued a statement, explaining that he took “full responsibility for the manner in which we dealt with this incident.”
Banman said he doesn’t know who made the decision to dump the dung and the city is reviewing the issue. He said the incident was due to a breakdown in communication.
“We are going to work hard now to repair the damage that this has done.”
When asked whether the incident would cost anyone their job, the mayor said he would like to think of this as a “teaching moment on how to deal with people in a compassionate manner.”
Banman said Murray had already assumed responsibility for the issue.
“The buck stops with the city manager and myself. We are responsible at the end of the day for the actions of all employees and staff.”
James Breckenridge, a local activist for the homeless, said the incident is indicative of the city’s policy on homeless people, and comes in the wake of an increase in crackdowns on homeless camps in Abbotsford.
“This is a new low for the city,” he said, adding that to treat human beings in this manner is “reprehensible.”
Breckenridge said city council must be held accountable for the incidents, regardless of whether they gave the orders, because they create the policy that makes such measures possible.
He said recently there had been a greater number of people in the Happy Tree area, due to so many being recently chased out of camps in other segments of the city.
Breckenridge said that the city needs to work harder to ensure that the city’s policy assists homeless people instead of trying to drive them away.
Banman acknowledged in his comments to reporters that all levels of government must work together to deal with underlying issues of homelessness.
In 2009, a similar incident occurred in Surrey, when chicken manure was dumped around a social service building.
At that time, deputy city manager Dan Bottrill said the incident occurred without his approval, and a city councillor said the plan had been proposed by the RCMP. City crews later removed the manure from the area.
Breckenridge raised health concerns about the impact of chicken manure, stating that many people walk through that area and could carry the manure into public areas, including the Salvation Army.
A spokesperson from Fraser Health said that spreading chicken manure on farmland is common, and codes and regulation are in place for its use. The spokesperson said manure being used in the city is an issue for the ministry of environment.
Yesterday, the site was visited by a conservation officer from the ministry, following a complaint from a local resident.
The News requested further comment from city officials. City communications staff said more comments would be made when information becomes available.