NANAIMO — Police won't be allowed to arrest people at Nanaimo's large tent city for not obeying a provincial fire order.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ronald Skolrood denied a City request for an enforcement order allowing them to make arrests and remove structures for non-compliance with the fire order. Skolrood ruled the “broad and sweeping” application from the City appeared to be an effort to dismantle the tent city while its legal status remains undecided.
“Frankly, an order authorizing the arrest of someone for refusing to remove a tarp or for positioning a tent too close to a neighbouring tent, which is what the order sought to permit, is in my view excessive.”
A sigh of relief was heard in the packed courtroom after the decision was read Monday afternoon.
The judge said it's clear Nanaimo's tent city residents are not in full compliance of several fire safety provisions (implemented July 18) and stressed they are required to obey the order.
"The ongoing failure or refusal to do so will be a factor I will consider when determining the issues raised in the City's petition," Skolrood said.
An injunction application by the City of Nanaimo to remove the camp entirely awaits a separate decision from Justice Skolrood.
Following the decision, Noah Ross, legal counsel representing the tent city campers, told reporters he's recommending his clients work toward improving their fire safety.
“Some people have been slower to get the message about that and hopefully this decision further extenuates that people need to work on that,” Ross said.
He said efforts are ongoing with BC Housing to acquire fire-resistent tarps.
The issue of tarps was highlighted by tent city organizers as a serious concern, since they provide relief from the heat and keep campers dry and protect their belongings from rain. The fire order called for the removal of all tarps.
During the City's submissions earlier Monday, lawyer Jarrett Plonka argued there are numerous examples of non-compliance to the nearly month-old provincial fire safety order. Plonka said the fire threat in fact got worse at the encampment, pointing to open flames in the camp in the middle of a hot August day.
“Cardboard against tarps, against tents....tents in the bush instead of separated from the bush by three meters, obstructions in front of the tent entryways,” Plonka said.
It remains unclear when Skolrood will rule on the City's request for an injunction to remove the camp.
On Twitter: @reporterholmes
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