A B.C. Liberal government will impose a “provincial mandate” on local governments to prevent 24-hour camping in urban parks, leader Andrew Wilkinson says.
The issue of sanctioned campsites in urban areas is emerging as a key one in the 2020 election, as it was in 2017 when organized camps in Nanaimo, Victoria and Maple Ridge brought drug dealing and crime to neighbourhoods. Transitional housing imposed by the NDP government remains a divisive issue in Maple Ridge, where leader John Horgan was targeted by a loud protester on his first visit since calling the early election for Oct. 24.
At a campaign event in Vancouver Oct. 1 dealing with public safety, Wilkinson wouldn’t specify exactly how the province would force municipalities such as Victoria or Maple Ridge to stop overnight camping. He renewed his attack on Horgan’s approach, which he calls “warehousing,” leaving the same neighbourhood crime as grows up around urban camps. Wilkinson said the province has a duty to treat people with medical needs who are the most vulnerable when criminals take control of camps.
“We need prevention and recovery to get people well, and we need to end these lawless camps and tent cities in city parks with a provincial mandate to help these vulnerable British Columbians,” Wilkinson said. “Our most vulnerable citizens are being left on the streets of our cities, many suffering from brain injuries, addictions and untreated mental illness.”
The party’s news release says only that a B.C. Liberal government would “move to end lawless camping in day-use urban parks,” as well as “enforce the ban on unsafe roadside panhandling” and work with police to add mental health response and target gangs.
Wilkinson said he agrees with Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog, a former NDP MLA who has suggested secure custody, as local police deal with people who have been barred from supportive housing and shelters for violent and illegal behaviour. But like preventing people from camping when shelters are nearly full, that runs into court challenges based on constitutional rights.
Victoria council lifted its unevenly enforced restriction on 24-hour campers in parks this spring, citing COVID-19 health orders that restricted shelters and group gatherings. Sanctioned camping in Victoria parks and a roving tent camp in Vancouver parks prompted the NDP government to buy more hotels this summer and move occupants in so parks could be reclaimed.
NDP candidate Melanie Mark, advanced education minister until the election call, stirred debate with her call for city-sanctioned park campsites in Vancouver to give time to find or build transition housing.