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UPDATE: Judge reserves decision on application for tent city enforcement orders

Maple Ridge seeking orders on fire safety at homeless camp
Tent city was deluged by rain and hail last September. (THE NEWS/files)

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has taken under reserve a decision on the City of Maple Ridge’s application for enforcement orders and injunctions against Anita Place.

While Maple Ridge made its case in Vancouver Supreme Court Monday to get the authority to enforce safety orders at Anita Place Tent City, Pivot Legal Society had its turn on Tuesday, calling for the city to provide advice on safe heaters for the campers and to help provide housing for the homeless.

According to Pivot, the city is seeking to enact unreasonable fire safety and solid structure regulations, resident identification policies, and a police enforcement order allowing officers to virtually indefinitely detain people believed to be “on reasonable and probable grounds” in violation of these orders.

“The decision has been taken under reserve by Justice Grauer, who we hope [the judge] will consider all the harms and insecurities faced by residents, including fire safety,” said Anna Cooper, lawyer with Pivot Legal Society.

“The very survival of homeless people is at stake in this application.”

Cooper said earlier that there is still no other location where the vast majority of homeless people can be in Maple Ridge.

“This is the only site.”

She estimated there are at least 200 homeless people in Maple Ridge, but said the city doesn’t seem to want to take the steps to get people indoors.

“It’s the very reason we’re still in this position a year and a half later – and likely will be a year from now.”

Maple Ridge is seeking a court order to enforce fire safety regulations, allowing it to remove hazardous materials from tent city, as well as inspect the inside of tents, with 24-hour notice. It’s also seeking another order compelling people to show their identification and if they don’t have any, agree to be photographed and give their names. Otherwise, residents could be kicked out of the tent city, with police able to arrest those who are not complying.

Pivot wants the application dismissed and for the city to provide heaters or generators to keep people warm, saying the city is relying on “false urgency” and that its actions deserve “rebuke” from the court.

Cooper maintained that the city was violating an agreement made in court in 2017 that said the Maple Ridge fire department would approve appropriate heating devices for people to have in tents.

The city’s application also says that only those seeking to be housed must provide identification. Only at the end of the application does the city add that those who don’t want to be housed should be banned from the camp.

Coun. Ahmed Yousef supported the request for campers to be identified.

“It is exactly what the mayor has said … is that we need to get people help,” Yousef said.

“The camp is not a safe place at all. That’s why, again, we need to start identifying people’s needs first and foremost. Get them the help, get them out of there. Get them into a safe environment, first and foremost, and then we can start looking into the treatment pieces, the mental health pieces,” Yousef added.

As for the fire safety orders, the city wants the authority to remove unsafe materials from tent city and to enter any tents or shacks after giving 24 hours’ notice.

Firefighters believe that fuel containers and heaters are being kept inside tents and tarps.

The city states in its application that since it opened, tent city has posed fire and safety risks. But since September 2017, “sharp increases were observed … relating to … serious fire-safety related risks and levels of aggressive behaviour shown by occupants towards [the] Maple Ridge fire department.”

The city said in its application that the consent order agreed to in 2017 for fire safety standards was not followed, while last September, firefighters and city crews were not allowed to implement the steps required by a fire commissioner order.

The city’s application notes that, since 2017, new wooden shacks and jerry-rigged wiring using the washroom as a power source have added to the safety issues.

“Life-safety risks relating to fire hazards are at a critical level,” and residents are unable or unwilling to maintain basic fire safety. That puts residents, first responders and members of the public “at serious risk of injury or death,” the application says.

The application notes that in October 2018, 53 temporary supportive housing units were opened on Royal Crescent. That saw 25 tent city residents move to that location.

B.C. Housing constructed the supportive housing without seeking City of Maple Ridge rezoning.

Before that was built, current Mayor Mike Morden opposed that type of housing because it didn’t provide long-term care.

The previous city council also had rejected a plan for 85-units of supportive housing and shelter nearby on Burnett Street.

The city has included 10 affidavits from city staff attesting to the camp conditions in December.

Cooper said the city isn’t seeking a direct order to dismantle Anita Place Tent City, but instead is seeking a collection of orders, “which if granted, will effectively lead to closing the camp.”

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