Tale of Two Cities: Public hearing finishes between City of Nanaimo and Discontent City

By Spencer Sterritt
July 18, 2018 - 5:43pm Updated: July 18, 2018 - 6:33pm

The downtown tent city, which has sprawled to roughly 200 people in two monthsIan Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

A court room sketch of lawyer Noah Ross (standing) speaking to the Honourable Justice Ronald Skolrood.Submitted/Linda Harvey

NANAIMO — Is downtown Nanaimo's tent city a haven for criminals or a home for the needy?

A Supreme Court of B.C. judge now has to decide if Discontent City, established two months ago across from Port Place Shopping Centre, should stay or be removed. The Honourable Justice Ronald Skolrood also has to reconcile if it can be both a haven and a home for Nanaimo's homeless.

He reserved his judgement about the tent city after two days of a public hearing, as part of the injunction filed against the camp by the City of Nanaimo.

Skolrood already said he had trouble believing the reprehensible actions of a few could be used to paint a larger picture of crime and discord at Discontent City.

City lawyer Troy DeSouza had shared an affidavit from retired area resident Lois McGuffie about how she was verbally abused and stolen from by tent city residents.

In contrast, Discontent City lawyer Noah Ross read out the affidavit of elderly Cameron Island resident Constance Faith Patton, who said she's never bothered by tent city residents.

“I feel safe when I visit Discontent City and I feel safe when I'm walking to and from my building and Port Place Mall,” her submission read. “I'm an older lady...so it can't be that dangerous.”

For every affidavit Ross read saying there were less needles and homeless people found around the downtown area, DeSouza had an affidavit talking about the harm the tent city had on downtown businesses and prospects in the Harbour City.

At one point, Justice Skolrood was struck by the argument the City made in response to claims the Discontent City residents were illegally trespassing.

“And the City's response is they're much better off dispersed in the parks and alleyways?” Skolrood asked of DeSouza. “From a policy perspective, that strikes me as very odd.”

DeSouza said having such a concentrated group of homeless in downtown Nanaimo was doing more harm than when everyone was spread out across the City.

Justice Skolrood acknowledged numerous times the contradicting nature of the evidence over the divisive issue and said he would take it into heavy consideration when making his decision.

While he reserved his decision about the matter, he did grant one of two applications which were put before the court.

The first interim application, which he accepted, was to ensure Discontent City residents complied with instructions from fire commissioner Alan Millbank who had identified several fire concerns and hazards at the site.

Millbank's affidavit listed the proximity of tents to one another, the use of tarps which could easily go up in flames and the presence of improperly stored propane tanks as major concerns.

One propane tank was allegedly stored on its side near a fire source, which DeSouza said should earn itself a Darwin Award for stupidity.

The second application was for tent city leadership to create a list of everyone who stayed at the camp in the event of a fire and evacuation. It was denied by Justice Skolrood for practical concerns about creating the list in a short period of time and the effort required to keep it current.


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