“Nanaimo is following the letter, not the spirit of the law”: Discontent City returns to court as Mayor McKay fumbles the displacement of tent city

SNUYNEMEXW TERRITORY (NANAIMO): As the court-ordered deadline approaches for the displacement of the tent city on Nanaimo’s waterfront, Mayor Bill McKay can’t seem to get his story straight about whether or how he will order police to scatter hundreds of homeless people out into the streets of his town.

Speaking to one reporter the day before the October 12th injunction deadline, Mayor McKay said that the City has a “court order” and that the camp will be “shut down” on deadline. To another, he was less firm and said, “Nobody wants to disperse people into the community when help is just around the corner.” And with his finger in the poor bashing right wing populist winds, McKay added that the City will “go in and manage that site,” divide deserving from undeserving poor, “deal with the people who need the help the most, and ask the balance of them to simply leave.”

Reading through McKay’s flip-flopping uncertainty, it seems most likely that the Province has convinced the City to work together to take police control over the Discontent City, which Alliance Against Displacement referred to in an earlier statement as the “prison campification” of the tent city. When the police took similar control over Camp Namegans in Saanich last month, they installed high chainlink fencing, floodlights on towers, and a 24-hour armed police guard at the gate, monitoring and controlling the coming-and-going of residents, and restricting visitors to police-approved social workers. In a release Friday, Housing Minister Selena Robinson explained that the goal of prison campifying a tent city is to stop any new residents from arriving and to quell socially disruptive behaviour. Mayor McKay seems more concerned with keeping out organizers with Alliance Against Displacement, the group that has been instrumental to starting, maintaining, and defending Discontent City as well as launching last week’s Schoolhouse Squat.

Rather than allow Mayor McKay to move forward with his “rational and pragmatic” takedown of the camp, on Thursday October 11th, Discontent City’s lawyer Noah Ross applied for a variance of the Supreme Court injunction deadline. “Justice Skolrod made his decision about the deadline for the displacement of the camp without knowing that the Province would offer temporary housing and a camp management plan,” explained Ross. “This information constitutes new, compelling evidence that the Courts should hear in order to decide a more appropriate date for dismantling the camp.”

The implication of this Supreme Court application is that the RCMP should not move ahead with any action against Discontent City, even if Mayor McKay requests it. “The RCMP has the power and the duty to decide whether a request from a property owner is legally appropriate,” said Ross. “Mayor McKay is correct that he has the letter of the law behind him if he wants to break up Discontent City, but to act on that while a reasonable application

Despite a torrent of online hate and attacks directed at the group of activists that occupied Nanaimo’s Rutherford School for 17 hours on October 5th and 6th, supporters have also spoken out. A group that opposes poor bashing on Southern Vancouver Island called the Homes Not Hate Network organized a letter-writing campaign to pressure the City to back off from its abrupt displacement plan. And the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition is releasing an open letter to Mayor McKay and the Nanaimo RCMP calling for restraint and support for all the homeless at the camp. Within one day, 50 significant civil society organizations and individuals signed the letter, including 5 organizations located in Nanaimo.

Discontent City campers are calling for clarity from Mayor McKay, and cooperation with city officials, not top-down control over the camp they have successfully self-managed for the past five months.