Court deadline passes but tents remain at camp in Vancouver park

The 10 p.m. deadline to leave Oppenheimer Park in the downtown east side was set last week by B.C. Supreme Court Justice.

VANCOUVER – Tents remained up in a homeless camp on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside early Thursday, following an emotional day that saw a coroner remove a man’s body and a court-imposed deadline to vacate the park pass.

The 10 p.m. deadline to leave Oppenheimer Park was set last week by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Duncan who based her decision partly on the fact the city planned to open more temporary housing this week.

But as the deadline passed, there was no sign that many of the tents’ owners, or police, intended to remove the structure from the encampment that arose in late July.

In fact, Const. Brian Montague, a spokesman for the Vancouver Police Department, said officers hoped the campers would comply voluntarily with the court order.

“We’re going to remain down here monitoring the park,” he said. “We’re going to encourage people to continue complying with the court order to pack up their belongings voluntarily and leave the park.”

Safety was the department’s main concern, and officers didn’t want to do anything to compromise that safety, he said, reminding those who stayed, however, that they ran the risk of arrest.

”We don’t want to arrest people,”  he added. ”That said, those that remain here do run that risk, they are breaching a court order.”

Montague said police had plans but declined to release details.

The city also released a statement, saying staff, members of the park board, police and firefighters will continue to work in the morning to get people out of the park.

Shelters will open earlier than usual Thursday to accommodate campers, it added.

Hours earlier, Vancouver police announced the body of a man who was believed to be 69 years old was discovered about 11 a.m. They said his death was not considered suspicious, although they didn’t know the cause.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson expressed his condolences to the family and friends of the dead man but remained critical of the camp.

“This is, of course, a tragic incident that we were hoping not to see at Oppenheimer Park as the tent camp goes into its final stages,” he said.

“But this tragedy certainly demonstrates why tent camps are not safe, why the city has had great concerns about this camp continuing to be there, and particularly the safety issues for elderly people.”

In an attempt to obtain the injunction last week, lawyers for the city told the court concerns were mounting over safety and hygiene at the camp.

Robertson said he hoped there would be a peaceful resolution to the situation.

Late Wednesday night, the city announced more than 100 people had moved to shelters ahead of the injunction’s deadline, and 20 individuals asked to be referred to shelters Wednesday.

Anthony Guitar, who identified himself as one of the five people who started the encampment, said he was sad and disgusted by the death.

He said a copy of the court injunction had been posted on the dead man’s tent for several days.

“I mean while we were fighting the injunction for that week it kept coming up how VPD has spent over $100,000 patrolling this park. Well, if that’s the case then why wasn’t that tent opened to see if anybody was in there to see if they were OK.”

D.J. Larkin, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, said some people have taken up the city on its housing offer and are staying on mats in emergency shelters. She said some campers have been told it’s the only way to get on a housing list.

“They feel like they don’t have a choice, even though its not a really good or safe option for them,” she said.

Others, including couples and people with pets, will likely return to living in the corners of parks, in alleys or doorways, she added.

Larkin said she also hasn’t heard anything about the extra housing that was promised in court.

“Putting people into emergency shelters makes a lot of the public feel more comfortable because then you don’t have to see a homeless person,” said Larkin. “That person is still homeless, even if they’re going to a shelter at night.”

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