UPDATE: Maple Ridge granted authority to address fire safety at homeless camp

‘Solid structures to remain at Anita Place Tent City.’

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has decided to allow solid structures to remain at Anita Place Tent City, according to Pivot Legal Society, a human rights organization representing the Maple Ridge homeless camp.

However, the court order grants 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 injunction also grants 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.

“This will also assist city staff in identifying and removing any unoccupied tents or unclaimed materials from the site,” says a city release.

“The injunction order also provides guidance on the RCMP’s role in ensuring that the court order can be carried out without obstruction.”

The court did not grant the city’s request to have wooden structures dismantled and removed.

“A satisfactory answer to the problems raised on this application cannot be found in the courts,” Justice Christopher Grauer wrote in the decision, released Friday.

He also encouraged the city and the province to “work together urgently to bring an end to the need for Anita Place.”

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.

“Today’s B.C. Supreme Court decision allowed solid structures to remain, despite an application by the City of Maple Ridge to have them removed. This will ensure those living in them will remain sheltered from the elements as temperatures are expected to decline.”

Temperatures at Pitt Meadows airport have dipped below 0 C in the past week, and residents took to skating on Whonnock Lake on Friday.

Pivot Legal Society will appeal other aspects of the B.C. Supreme Court ruling on Anita Place.

“We are encouraged by a number of statements coming from the court recognizing the urgent situation at Anita Place and governments’ responsibilities in addressing the issue of homelessness. We are very disappointed, however, that the decision does not address the provision of the life safety necessities required to support homeless residents, particularly the ability to keep themselves warm,” says a Pivot release.

“We are also concerned about operational aspects of the decision and will be seeking leave to appeal the enforcement orders and the verification and exclusion order granted by Justice Grauer. Pivot will continue to advocate and fight for the safety of our clients who have shown tremendous courage and resilience throughout this trying process.”

The city was seeking the authority to enforce safety orders at Anita Place Tent City, while Pivot asked for advice on safe heaters for the campers and to help provide housing for the homeless.

Pivot alleged the city was 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 judge wrote, regarding the privacy and dignity rights of the defendants, that camp residents are occupying land either owned by or licensed to Maple Ridge.

“It does not seem to me to be an unfair requirement that, so long as they do so, they disclose their identities to Maple Ridge. Again, I take at face value Maple Ridge’s assurance that it will use the information only for the purposes described.”

Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden is concerned that the court did not specifically grant the authority to remove the wooden structures, but said the city is grateful to be given the ability to “address the other serious fire safety issues that are putting the camp occupants and neighbourhood at risk.”

Morden added that city staff, along with the bylaws department, Maple Ridge Fire Department and Ridge Meadows RCMP will work with B.C. Housing and representatives of the camp occupants to develop and implement a coordinated action plan to meet the terms of the B.C. Supreme Court judgment.

“The ability to identify those living in the camp is a critical step in connecting camp occupants with the services they need. Council is resolved to work with the province and local service providers towards the camp coming to an end,” Morden said.

The next steps for the city will involve coordinating the implementation of the court order and ensuring that terms are maintained within the encampment going forward.

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