The City of Maple Ridge and Anita Place Tent City activists seem destined to be heading to court early in the new year to resume the battle over the future of the camp, located on 223rd Street in the city’s downtown.
The city announced on Dec. 11, that it was returning to B.C. Supreme Court for an order to enforce fire safety regulations. It also wants a court order that will allow it to “better identify” people at the camp, so it knows how many need housing.
But only 10 days later, on what it noted was the first day of winter, Pivot Legal Society responded, saying that a court order would “criminalize” residents’ efforts to survive.
“The city’s position with respect to Anita Place appears to be to make conditions as intolerable as possible in the hopes that residents will simply disappear,” Pivot Legal said in a release.
It also claimed that the order would allow city employees to seize all warming devices “without offering any meaningful assistance in return” and also will allow police to arrest anyone who resists.
Maple Ridge in November 2017 obtained a court order spelling out safety terms but says that occupants haven’t upheld those conditions.
The Alliance Against Displacement also responded the same day, saying that the court action “is a clear attempt to dismantle the tent city, using fire safety compliance as a legal weapon to tear down their homes …”
Pivot legal society lawyer Anna Cooper said at the Dec. 21 new conference, 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 its role to tell people what materials to use.
Dave Diewert, with the Alliance Against Displacement, added that people need social 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.”
The Alliance claims that the city’s desire to enforce fire safety rules simply will result in the closure of the camp, as happened outside Victoria and in Nanaimo.
Over the past year, the fire department has made regular inspections of the camp, with mixed results.
Despite the opening of the 53 new modular housing units on Royal Crescent that allowed 25 residents of tent city to leave tent city, there remains the ongoing question about the actual number of people living in tent city. There have also been five fires at the location, the most recent one in early December.
B.C. Housing said it wants to continue to provide more housing, to allow the camp to be emptied.
The latest manoeuvrings follow the election of a new mayor and council for Maple Ridge in October.
Shortly after being elected Oct. 20, Mayor Mike Morden said that he wants to work with senior governments to ensure people get the help they need to allow the closing of Anita Place Tent City.
“To close tent city needs to be done with respect.”