After initial refusal, City installs drinking water at downtown tent city

By Dominic Abassi
July 12, 2018 - 11:33am Updated: July 12, 2018 - 2:55pm

City crews install a water line to the downtown tent city on Thursday morning.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — After originally balking at a health officer's order, the City of Nanaimo provided flowing drinking water to the downtown tent city.

A line carrying City drinking water into Discontent City, across from Port Place Shopping Centre, was installed Thursday morning. The City also provided three additional portable toilets to the encampment, complying with an order issued by Island Health.

Mayor Bill McKay said the City had little choice in the face of significant fines for defying an order from a health officer. He said he completely understands the concerns of residents irate about water and other services being provided for free while others are expected to pay.

"We're very concerned about that as well. However, the bottom line is we've been ordered by the health authority to do this and the consequences for the City would be significant. You don't disregard an order."

McKay also said the City and its lawyers are mindful they will be heading to court next week asking a judge to grant an injunction to remove the camp.

"We need to present a light that we are trying to work our way through this and we're not trying to be objectionable or obstinate," McKay said.

The installation of water follows an order issued late last week by mid-island medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback, calling on the City to provide a free flow of potable water, more portable toilets, and hand sanitizing stations.

Last Friday, the City issued a statement saying they would ask Hasselback to reconsider the order, calling the camp "illegal and unsafe." However, Hasselback held firm, revising the deadline on the order, giving the City until 5 p.m. on July 12 to comply.

The City's legal counsel also sent Hasselback a letter asking him to use his authority to order the camp evacuated because it's a health hazard.

"My first question back to them would be 'Where are these individuals going to go?,' Hasselback told NanaimoNewsNOW earlier this week. "Should people leave that site, those needs (water and toilets) are still there. If there was appropriate housing those individuals could move in to, that would be great, but there isn't."

Hasselback said Island Health felt providing water and other amenities to tent city was the "Immediate solution to the imminent health hazard that is in place."

Coun. Jerry Hong said he was disappointed by the decision.

"I don't think we should be providing anything else to tent city...The downtown residents and businesses have had enough. We've put them through torture in the last several weeks and I think they deserve a break," Hong said.

He said he was also concerned about the cost related to servicing the encampment, noting councillors were not given any estimates on what water, garbage collection and portable toilets would cost.

"When I go camping, I have to bring my own water. This to me seems like they're coming here for a free campsite and I don't think we should be providing water to them."

It's unclear how much Thursday's installation of water cost the City, or what the bill for the camp overall is since it was established eight-weeks ago. NanaimoNewsNOW requested the information and is waiting for a response from the City.


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