City of Prince George apologizes for ‘trauma’ caused by destruction of part of homeless camp

The City of Prince George has issued an apology for the destruction of part of a court-protected homeless camp, which a judge said caused “serious harm” to those living there.

He also withdrew an appeal of a court case that stopped the city from destroying a homeless encampment set up on land along Patricia Boulevard and said he is “reassessing its approach and response to homelessness and to homeless camps.

The decision follows a new report from the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations criticizing the city’s approach to homelessness in the city, calling it “counterproductive, cruel and inherently racist.”

This also follows a provincial report which found the Prince George area has the highest rate of homelessness in the province.

Failed legal action

The city’s legal action against the homeless encampment dates back to June 2021, when council ordered staff to seek a civil injunction and issue trespassing notices to people living on two city lots .

In October of that year, Chief Justice Christopher E. Hinkson ruled that while the city could close one of the homeless encampments, it should allow the one on Patricia Boulevard to remain, as it had no not seen enough evidence of adequate accessible housing. in Prince George to justify closing the camp.

But in November 2021, the city demolished several structures in that encampment, citing concerns about community safety and fire hazards.

The city also appealed Hinkson’s decision and again asked for the camp to be closed – and in February it was again denied, this time by Judge Simon R. Coval.

Not only did Coval find that there was still not enough housing to justify withdrawing the camp, but he also deemed that the city had “inflicted serious damage on the vulnerable” when it sent machinery heavy to destroy several tents and structures in November.

“Under the [previous] order, the Lower Patricia encampment was permitted to remain unless and until the city demonstrates available and accessible housing and daytime facilities for its occupants,” Coval wrote in its judgment.

He also accepted several affidavits from people who lived in the camp who said they had lost important personal items due to the demolition of their shelters by the city, including the remains of deceased family members, photographs and coins. ‘identity.

City says it was acting in ‘good faith’

In a report published on its website on Thursdaythe city said it “sincerely apologizes to anyone who has been traumatized by our actions.”

However, the statement also said the city “acted in good faith” and demolished the encampments “with the assistance of a lawyer and in partnership with BC Housing and other service providers.”

BC Housing previously said the decision to destroy the camps was made by the city.

The aftermath of the demolition of several tents and structures at a homeless encampment in Prince George. (Kate Partridge/CBC)

The city’s statement also said its intent “has been to advance and protect the interests, health and safety of all…residents – including camp occupants, downtown business operators and residents of the nearby subdivision of Millar Addition”.

In one separate statement put in place shortly after, the city announced it was withdrawing its appeal of the October court ruling, saying it was “unlikely to get the immediate result of closing the Lower Patricia encampment or otherwise address the city’s concerns about encampments in the city.”

The city says it won’t provide further comment on the matter because there are still outstanding legal issues related to homeless encampments.