Pivot Legal Society has responded to the City of Maple Ridge’s attempts to get a court injunction to improve safety conditions at Anita Place Tent City, describing it and previous attempts as, “especially cruel and worrisome at this time of year.”
Earlier this month, the city filed an application with the B.C. Supreme Court to seek authority to address significant fire safety issues at Anita Place Tent City.
Five fires have occurred at the camp on 223rd Street, just off Lougheed Highway, in the past year and a half, with the most recent one on Dec. 9.
But according to Pivot, the city’s application, which is expected to be heard early in January, includes the request for an order allowing the city to seize all warming devices, without offering any replacement.
Pivot also says the city is seeking the right to arrest anyone who resists.
“In light of the ongoing housing and opioid crisis, it is unconscionable to further jeopardize the health and safety of people who are most deeply impacted,” Pivot said Friday.
The legal advocacy society scheduled a media conference Friday afternoon and said the city was trying to break apart “a vulnerable community sheltering outdoors and providing shelter and security for one another,” on the first day of winter.
Lawyer Anna Cooper said that tent city residents have repeatedly asked for the city or firefighters’ help in addressing fire safety issues. “Help us find a solution. If you don’t think the heaters people are using are safe, what can they use?”
The fire department has said previously that it’s not their role to tell people what materials to use.
Dave Diewert, with the Alliance Against Displacement, said that people need housing that is dignified and affordable and resident run, but in the meantime it’s important to sustain it and not to be criminalized. “I think the sentiments of the camp are that we are here to stay and we are here to fight.”
Another resident said during the recent storm, a tree broke through a roof of one of the shacks and could have caused injuries if it had fell on to a tent.
“The people down here, as the community, we want to be part of the general community. We’re down here to protect ourselves and take care of ourselves, because we have nowhere else to go,” said tent council spokesperson Pete Woodrow. “We do try our best,” to achieve compliance with safety orders, he added. If residents are told to remove a structure, the city has to give alternatives, he added. “Because we need help.”
The city previously sought to achieve and maintain fire safety compliance on the property through a Consent Order of the B.C. Supreme Court, issued in November 2017.
The city has applied to the B.C. Supreme Court to get authority to ensure that the fire safety requirements previously imposed through the Consent Order and the Provincial Fire Order are achieved and maintained on the property, said an earlier city release.
Maple Ridge said that activity in the camp has included the unauthorized construction of wooden structures, tampering with the electrical systems of the on-site washroom and shower trailer and the observation of numerous fuel containers on the property.
The city’s application will also seek an order to better identify those living in the camp who do not have housing or shelter.