NANAIMO — The chair of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school board says he was "truly mortified" at the scene left by protesters who broke into and occupied a closed elementary school.
Steve Rae and other district officials were let into Rutherford Elementary on Saturday afternoon after RCMP removed and arrested 21 people occupying the school since Friday evening.
Rae said the amount of damage done in under 24 hours was staggering.
He said all of the entrance doors on the main floor were destroyed, furniture was heaped in piles and several holes were smashed in the roof.
Rae told NanaimoNewsNOW his personal estimate for the cleanup costs was about $100,000.
"The really sad part, that has me really pissed off is we only have one pot of money. Now we're going to have to take some of our money, dollars earmarked for kids to further their education, and use it to clean up this mess.
"It's disgusting behaviour and we won't tolerate," Rae said.
He said the demonstration, organized by the Alliance Against Displacement and locals including Discontent City organizer Amber McGrath, was very well planned. Rae said there was a large amount of food, propane stoves and construction equipment.
Rae said there was also a "disturbing amount" of drug paraphernalia. Suspected drugs, an entire box of syringes and multiple naloxone kits were found alongside weapons including machetes and large knives.
The district, Rae said, is very sensitive to the homelessness crisis but actions like this will only serve to turn the community against those legitimately struggling.
"We want to do our part to help the homeless people in Nanaimo but this is about a radical group of political activists who are victimizing our community and now our children."
Rae said he posted pictures of the drugs and damage to the Alliance's Facebook page, but he said they were removed and he was blocked.
He said he directly messaged McGrath and told her the district will not tolerate any further action and will act swiftly if a similar demonstration is tried again.
McGrath said cuts in government spending are responsible for the school being closed in the first place and are part of the overall cause of homelessness.
She said repair costs should come from the RCMP budget. "Their disproportionate show of force was far more costly than two dozen protestors claiming the school for shelter and survival."
When asked about the drugs and weapons, she said "This was a non-violent action. Harm reduction supplies are vital for survival."
On Twitter: @domabassi
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