Petition demands resignation of Park Board commissioners over Strathcona encampment

Feb 22 2021, 7:37 pm

Public opposition over the Vancouver Park Board’s handling of the prolonged Strathcona Park homeless encampment appears to be mounting.

An online petition that began earlier this month has already collected nearly 1,000 signatures against five of the seven Park Board commissioners who were opposed to using various tools at their disposal to dismantle the encampment.

There have been a number of deaths at the park since the encampment began in June 2020, and the violence and illicit activity has spilled out into the surrounding neighbourhood, with residents reporting increases in assaults and theft.

Most recently, earlier this month, one of the camp’s leaders, Sandy Parisian, was charged with manslaughter in connection to a deadly home invasion near Queen Elizabeth Park.

However, the commissioners who have refused to use an injunction to clear the encampment have been calling for any evictions from the park to be paired with shelter. The Park Board has been working with city staff and the provincial government to turn Jericho Hostel at Jericho Beach Park and the city-owned 2400 Motel into shelters specifically for the campers.

Last month, the provincial government stated these temporary shelter arrangements will put an end to the encampment by April.

And two weeks ago, the Park Board delivered an order mandating campers leave the west side of the park by February 17, starting a process that dismantles the encampment. A two-metre high fence was erected to bisect the park, with campers still permitted to remain on the east side of the park. It is estimated that about 200 campers still remain.

But some residents believe this is too little and too late, and it amounts to the Park Board failing to learn its lesson from the previous Oppenheimer Park, when a majority voted against an injunction in September 2019 to clear the encampment.

Oppenheimer Park was only cleared after the provincial government ordered the dismantling of the encampment under a COVID-19 emergency health order. Before finding their place in Strathcona Park, the campers subsequently relocated from Oppenheimer Park to Crab Park, but this was short-lived after the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority successfully sought an injunction.

“As of February 2021, the park is still occupied by not only campers, but also violent criminals who have been terrorizing Strathcona and the city at large. The Park Board vote to allow the encampment included legislation to require campers to leave by 8am daily however it was admitted by Park Board that this would not be enforceable, and it never was. There has been no subsequent action by Park Board and the park is being destroyed,” reads the petition.

“Residents of the Downtown Eastside and Strathcona have been denied access to their parks for years and the parks have been an epicentre of violence including murder, rape, assault, drug trafficking, stolen goods and have struck fear through the residents of the neighbourhood and the city on a daily basis.”

The petition specifically seeks the resignation of these five commissioners:

  • Dave Demers (Green Party)
  • Camil Dumont (Green Party)
  • Gwen Giesbrecht (COPE)
  • John Irwin (COPE)
  • Stuart MacKinnon (Green Party)

The other two commissioners — Tricia Barker and John Coupar of the NPA — voted measures against the encampments.

“The commissioners who voted for the encampments, even after witnessing the devastating results of the first decision at Oppenheimer, repeated their mistake, accept no responsibility and show no contrition for their actions,” continues the petition.

“Therefore, we the signers of this petition call for the resignation of these five commissioners with the aim of clearing and restoring the parks and preventing this from happening again in the future.”

One commentator on the petition wrote, “I have PTSD from living next to Oppenheimer. After living in this city for 25 years, this is the only time I could tell you every Park Board commissioners name because they’ve had such an indelibly negative impact on my life.”

Another wrote: “My cousin owns a house a few blocks from this [park] I visit regularly, and her property has been destroyed numerous times since this encampment has moved. Her house has been broken into at least six times and [she] lives in fear. She has been trying to sell but due to this the value has dropped and no one wants to be in that area. This needs to be fixed… before the public has to take matters in their own hands.”

Others commentating on the petition suggested housing and healthcare issues are well outside of the Park Board’s mandate.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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