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City of Prince George violated order, 'inflicted serious harm on vulnerable people,' court rules

The City of Prince George is seen in this photo from its Twitter account (Twitter/@CityofPG) The City of Prince George is seen in this photo from its Twitter account (Twitter/@CityofPG)

For the second time in four months, the B.C. Supreme Court has ruled against the City of Prince George in its efforts to clear an encampment of unhoused people near the city's downtown.

In a decision issued this week, Justice Simon R. Coval declined to grant the city a temporary injunction against the remaining residents of an encampment referred to as "Lower Patricia" or "Moccasin Flats."

The judge further ruled that the city had breached the court's previous order against it when it dismantled much of the camp in mid-November. In the process, the city "inflicted serious harm on vulnerable people," Coval wrote in his decision

The first court order was issued in October, when the court's Chief Justice Christopher E. Hinkson declined to grant the city an injunction that would allow it to clear the camp, accepting the camp residents' argument that there were inadequate alternative indoor shelters in the city where they could live instead.

"It is apparent that very few of the emergency shelter beds are low-barrier, and it appears that many of the homeless persons in the city are ineligible to stay in at least some of the shelters," Hinkson wrote in his October decision

"While the city contends that the availability of 81 shelter beds in the city is sufficient to house the encampment occupants, I am not satisfied that these shelter spaces are in fact accessible to all of the occupants of the encampments."

The city has appealed Hinkson's decision, and the appeal was ongoing at the time of Coval's ruling.

In the latest case, the city argued that it had provided enough shelter spaces for all of the residents of the camp, and that the "one or two" remaining occupants had refused to relocate.

The city sought an injunction that would compel those people to leave the camp and allow it to clean up the area.

In making its argument, the city relied on the availability of spaces in the downtown Knights Inn, which BC Housing leased for the purpose of providing housing to the encampment's residents.

The camp's residents disputed the city's claims, however. They argued that there were more people still occupying the camp than the city suggested, and that even more people would be there if the city hadn't begun dismantling the camp and removing people's belongings on Nov. 17.

While the city claimed that the belongings it removed on that date had been abandoned, camp residents submitted affidavits indicating that they were still living there at the time, they just weren't physically present when their belongings were taken.

Among the submissions was a statement from Deanna Marie Lindstrom, a 59-year-old Indigenous woman who told the court she was living in the camp as of Nov. 17, but was not present on that day because she had taken some time away to grieve the recent loss of her mother.

"When she returned to the encampment, she found everything she owned and needed to survive, winter clothing, blankets, and gifts from her deceased mother were gone," Coval wrote in his summary of Lindstrom's affidavit.

"She was so devastated she tried to obtain enough drugs to die by suicide, but in kindness the employees at the needle exchange would not let her have what she wanted."

This and other stories from camp residents and witnesses convinced Coval that the city had "failed in the admittedly difficult task of identifying, as much as reasonably possible, how many people were regularly occupying the camp and how their shelters and belongings should be managed."

"The Respondents accept that Lower Patricia is not an acceptable long-term solution, and agree that securing the Knights Inn as supportive housing for its occupants is a valuable contribution by BC Housing and the city," Coval wrote.

"In the face of the (previous court order), however, in my view none of this entitled the city to dismantle much of the Lower Patricia encampment before returning to court to seek an order to do so."

Because the city had not satisfied the conditions required under the previous order, Coval dismissed its application for an injunction. Top Stories

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