Pubdate: Thu, 16 Oct 2008
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 Times Colonist
Author: Rob Shaw, Staff Writer


Officers Can Still Respond To Criminal Behaviours, Infractions,
Despite Ruling

Victoria's police chief says his officers will still enforce existing
laws and bylaws if the homeless community builds tent cities on public
property in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling.

"The toolbox is not empty," interim chief Bill Naughton said
yesterday. "This is a very narrow judgment with very narrow impact,
and it's important to try to not extract more from the judgment than
what it says.

"It is not a carte blanche for a tent city, or open season, or [any]
of those things."

On Tuesday, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that a city of Victoria
bylaw, which prohibits people from erecting tents and large tarpaulins
for shelter in parks and public spaces, violates the rights of the

The ruling said that in the absence of sufficient safe and secure beds
for the homeless, it was unconstitutional for the city to prevent them
from erecting shelter for protection.

The court case was launched after city broke up a tent city in Cridge
Park, at the corner of Blanshard and Belleville streets, in 2005.
Yesterday, Naughton said what started then as a political movement was
quickly compromised by drug addicts and criminals.

"What you saw was a downward spiral in terms of behaviour as the
population began to shift," he said.

There were assaults among campers and drug activity, he said, along
with numerous at-risk vulnerable youth found living at the site.

Enforcing criminal laws -- possession of drugs, assaults, etc. -- and
bylaw infractions, such as fires, was key to controlling the
community, he said.

"All those behaviours are unaffected by this judgment," said

"You still can't light a fire in a public park, or do any of those
things. There are still existing bylaws to manage those behaviours.
And obviously we're going to respond to those behaviours. As I said,
the [legal] decision doesn't contemplate the establishment of a
permanent tent city."

Still, the police are looking for direction from city council once it
decides how to deal with the campers, some of whom have already set up
tents in Beacon Hill Park.

Recent police practice has been to generally let homeless people sleep
undisturbed between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., whereupon officers roust them
from doorways and parks and ask them to move along.

That will continue, for now, said Naughton. But it will be up to
council to decide whether the leniency continues or applies to future
campers, he said.

Officers remain overworked as they handle numerous mental health and
homelessness calls, said Naughton.

If a tent city does appear, and grows, the police workload will
increase significantly, he said. "But at this point I think it's
premature to speculate," said Naughton.

No special patrols were planned for tents erected at Beacon Hill Park
last night.

Police are expected to seek direction from council today at a meeting
at city hall.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin