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UPDATE: Safety regulations enforced at Maple Ridge tent city

Organizers protest as court order enforced.
Propane tanks and other heat sources were removed from the camp. (City of Maple Ridge)

Police and bylaws set up a barricade around Anita Place Tent City on Saturday and residents were asked for identification to be put on a list for housing, while the fire department enforced safety regulations imposed by a court order, according to the Alliance Against Displacement, which organizes the camp on 223rd Street in Maple Ridge.

Meanwhile, electricity to the camp and heat to its warming tent were cut off Friday, when it snowed, and remained so on Saturday, while heat sources were removed.

“In our minds, we disagree with the order granted by Judge [Christopher] Grauer, which was preventing this type of barricade so that people couldn’t get in,” Caitlin Shane, a lawyer with the Pivot Legel Society, said during the rally on 223rd Street.

“We are concerned about the way this count is being carried out.”

On Friday, when the fire department arrived at the site, the electrical service panel for the camp was exposed to the elements and the electrical connections were tampered with, creating a significant life safety risk, according to the city.

“B.C. Hydro was asked to turn off the power to the site due to the tampering. This has occurred on a number of occasions, and despite numerous warnings, the power supply to the camp continues to be tampered with creating a risk of electrocution.”

In addition to the electrical panel tampering, the fire department noticed the smell of propane in the area.

“An inspection of the fenced off area around the propane tanks supplying gas for the warning tent revealed that the lock had been cut and that one of the 80-pound tanks had been tampered with to refill small 20-pound BBQ tanks. This represented an extreme fire hazard and the fire department called the gas supplier for a repair.”

The propane supplier arrived on site and noted that this was not the first time that the tanks had been tampered with and removed them from the site, according to the city, which did not request such action.

The city will work with B.C. Housing to determine how these services can be restored in a safe fashion.

Inspections of all the tents and structures began Saturday, to remove ignition sources and accelerants that posed a life and fire safety hazard on the site.

“Access to the site will be restricted to verified camp occupants, their legal counsel and housing support workers. The city will continue the work of identifying the owners of tents and structures.”

A significant number of propane tanks, patio heaters and gas-powered generators were found and removed from the site, according to the city, along with a chain saw and gas lawn mower.

“The items were removed from the site and are being disposed of safely,” the city added.

“Once the site has been cleared of ignition sources and accelerants, work will begin to address the fire safety risks associated with the proximity of tents and structures to the fence, and to each other, to bring the site in compliance with the Court Order.”

B.C. Housing continues to work with community partners to engage campers and connect them to available shelter and housing options in the community.

“Homes and businesses in the immediate neighbourhood received notification of potential disruptions to traffic on 223 Street as the work to enforce the court order progresses.”

Also Friday, Ridge Meadows RCMP said since the establishment of the camp, in May 2017, they have responded to 669 calls related to it. They include 81 weapons calls, 44 to assist with medical overdoses, 57 for recovered stolen items, and 82 arrests.

“The current civil injunction court order is granted on the issue of fire safety. The RCMP are hopeful that those residing on the St. Anne’s lands will obey the court order. The RCMP will continue to maintain their keep-the-peace duties during the civil injunction process,” said Sgt. Brenda Gresiuk.

“As always, the primary concerns of police are public safety, police officer safety, and the right to peaceful, lawful and safe protest, within the terms set by the Supreme Court in the injunction.”

Earlier this month, a B.C. Supreme Court judge decided to allow solid structures to remain at the camp, but granted the city the authority to address the closeness of tents to the fences and each other, remove accelerants, electrical connections and other materials that pose a fire safety risk on the site.

The city started that process on Friday.

The injunction also granted the city the ability to identify those who are living in the camp to determine who needs housing and any additional support services, according to the city.

As well, the injunction orderprovided guidance on the RCMP’s role in ensuring that the court order can be carried out without obstruction.

“Well, that was a day. Never in my life did I think I would see a spectacle like the one I witnessed in front of Anita Place Tent City today. Too many RCMP officers to count, security officers, bylaw officers, members of the Maple Ridge Fire Department — all there to conduct a ‘safety inspection’ of the camp,” Chris Bossley, a camp organizer, wrote on the Anita Place Tent City Facebook page.

“Oh, and did I mention that no one was allowed inside the ‘safe zone’ except ‘verified residents’ of the camp? There were some who ignored the order and entered the camp anyway – thank goodness. Most of us stood outside the perimeter feeling hopeless and helpless while RCMP officers and bylaw officers videotaped us. We were finally allowed to go in shortly after 3 p.m.

“And, of course, there was the usual contingent of Ridge-ilantes present trying to stir the pot …

“However, I’m pleased to report that those in attendance who support the residents of Anita Place Tent City far outnumbered those opposed …

“I can’t thank you enough for coming out to witness the day’s events. It meant more than you will ever know.

Unfortunately, today was only the beginning. They’ll be back again tomorrow to continue their inspection. And we’ll be back too – bearing witness.”

The City of Maple Ridge had applied in December to enforce safety orders and injunctions against Anita Place, where there have been six fires since its inception about 18 months ago.

One woman was seriously injured in one in December.

Justice Grauer initially reserved judgment, but in Friday’s decision acknowledged that “freezing or burning is a choice no one should have to make,” according to Pivot.

“The very real difficulty is that steps taken by individuals to protect their own lives put more than their own lives at risk,” Justice Grauer wrote.

“Given the availability of a heating tent, communal cooking, hot water washing facilities, and cold weather shelter space within Maple Ridge, I must agree. A solution that fully meets the health and safety needs of the occupants of Anita Place may take some time, but the risk of catastrophic injury and loss of life is too great to ignore in the meantime. The balance of convenience favours the granting of the injunction in relation to the Fire Safety Orders.”

The legal society said the judge’s comments affirm the dire health safety needs faced by residents of Anita Place in the absence of adequate shelter.

On Saturday, at 5 p.m., the Salvation Army in Maple Ridge is held its annual Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser walk downtown.

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