Update: City starts safety improvements at Maple Ridge camp

Following on recent decision in Supreme Court

Maple Ridge is starting to implement the orders handed down by the B.C. Supreme Court on Feb. 8, allowing the city to improve safety at Anita Place Tent City.

Maple Ridge Fire and Rescue had a walk through of the camp on Thursday to map out the location of all tents and structures.

That was followed Friday with bylaw officers, accompanied by police, delivering notices to the camp giving people 24 hours’ notice that their campsites will be inspected and that they’ll have to show their ID in order to be a “verified occupant.” If they don’t have identification, a city worker will take their photograph.

Anyone without that status won’t be allowed in the camp while vacant sites will be cleared out.

Melanie Atfield, who’s been at the camp for a few months, said that bylaw officers just came and handed out notices and took names of people if they were home.

She’d like to find a place to live but doesn’t want to live in the modular homes on Royal Crescent because of the restrictions. She added that many people don’t have identification.

“What if there are some girls hiding from their abusive husbands?”

The city said in an earlier news release that will “address the proximity of tents to the fences and each other, removal of accelerants, electrical connections and other materials that pose a fire safety risk on the site.”

An Alliance Against Displacement news release said Friday that another fence was being installed around tent city to limit access.

However, city spokesman Fred Armstrong said the intent is to straighten the fence and create a secure perimeter for the camp.

“Our main concern is that they do what they did in Saanich and Nanaimo which is to turn the place into a prison camp,” Drury said.

The Alliance claims that bylaw officers also rounded up pet dogs that were in the camp and says that’s not part of the court order. However, kennels were only brought on site so that residents could keep the pets inside while bylaws officers were present.

Ridge Meadows RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Brenda Gresiuk said in a news release that the RCMP hopes tent city residents will obey the court order.

“The RCMP will continue to maintain their keep-the-peace duties during the civil injunction process.

She said that since the camp started in May 2017, police have responded to 669 calls relating to the camp. Those include 81 weapons calls, 44 calls to assist with medical overdoses, 57 recovered stolen items, and 82 arrests.

“Police take action on a case-by-case basis with a focus on enforcement if there are criminal activities that pose a threat to the safety of individuals or property or reports of individuals violating a court ordered injunction,” she said.

“There are no safe havens in Canada from the Criminal Code and law enforcement,” Gresiuk said.

Pivot Legal Society lawyer Anna Cooper said that the city started its enforcement without warning to residents or their legal counsel. “Classic Maple Ridge,” she said Friday online.

The court order allows the city to ask residents to provide identification and if they don’t have any, agree to be photographed. If they refuse, they could be kicked out of the camp on 223rd Street, just off Lougheed Highway in downtown Maple Ridge.

According to the city, identifying residents will determine who needs housing and any additional support services. “This will also assist city staff in identifying and removing any unoccupied tents or unclaimed materials from the site.”

The court’s decision did not grant the city’s request to have the shacks removed from tent city.

The camp is currently in its second winter.

Pivot Legal Society, which represents the camp, said it’s appealing some of the orders such as the enforcement orders and the verification and exclusion order.

However, Justice Grauer in his ruling said, “the need for enforcement is clear on the evidence.”

The city has tried many times to implement the safety conditions agreed on earlier, but those haven’t worked because of the “less-than-full cooperation by the occupants … and the inability to resolve the root problem of inadequate shelter,” Grauer wrote.

But fire hazards remain in the camp, Grauer said. “It is time now to deal with that risk and hopefully for Maple Ridge and British Columbia, to address also the risks of homelessness and hypothermia that will continue.”

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