Peaceful rally and protest over Nanaimo's tent city divides community

By Spencer Sterritt
August 19, 2018 - 4:18pm Updated: August 20, 2018 - 7:29am

There were numerous confrontations in the street Sunday afternoon, though none escalated beyond yelling. Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

Roughly 1,500 people filled the sidewalks around Discontent City and often forced their way into the street. Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

Tent City organizers had signs and a P.A. system to preach their message for several hours on Sunday. Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

There was a significant police presence at Sunday's event, causing many in the crowd to wonder how much money was being spent for a protest and rally which didn't bring any change.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

There was constant shouting from those opposed to Discontent City, including this woman who repeatedly yelled "Bums!" at supporters. Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — Though the Soldiers of Odin didn't force action against downtown Nanaimo's tent city like they claimed they would, the end result of dividing the community was still achieved.

Several hundred people packed the short stretch of Port Dr. between Discontent City and Port Place Shopping Centre for several hours on Sunday afternoon. Roughly 60 per cent of the crowd stood along the sidewalks near Port Place, standing in opposition to the substantial homeless camp.

The protest and counter-rally was first organized after the Soldiers of Oden group, who sparked the first tent city rally, said they were going to forcibly remove the camp Sunday afternoon. They never arrived and posted a video on Facebook saying they "trolled" tent city organizers and never intended to show up. 

Even without their presence, it was a tense few hours downtown.

Chants of “Homes not hate,” and “Stop displacement, defend tent city” from supporters were met with chants and yelling from those opposed, including threats to burn the camp down and repeated requests the residents get jobs.

Numerous Nanaimo RCMP officers kept watch and even created a barricade through the middle of the street with their cars at one point.

Yelling and verbal confrontations often broke out in the middle of the road between the groups. No one was injured during the scuffles, though there was some light pushing between a tent city organizer and a former supporter.

Co-organizer Amber McGrath said it was disheartening to see everyone standing against Discontent City and supporting calls to burn the camp to the ground or forcibly send Nanaimo's homeless back to the streets.

“I think it's really sad that there's so much hate,” she said. “We all need more homes in Nanaimo, we don't have enough houses and the rents are too high. I hope none of the people across the street are unfortunate enough to end up in the camp.”

Many organizers said they expected further calls for protests from the Soldiers of Odin and they'll continue to stage counter rallies in front of the tent city.

 

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