Oppenheimer Park shooting renews calls for injunction
Published Friday, December 13, 2019 8:39AM PST Last Updated Friday, December 13, 2019 6:44PM PST
VANCOUVER -- There are calls for immediate action to address safety concerns at Oppenheimer Park on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside after a man was shot at the park Thursday evening.
“It was what we had always been dreading that something horrible was going to happen down there,” said Vancouver Park Board commissioner Tricia Barker.
Police were called to the park around 5:30 p.m. after people in the area, including paramedics attending an unrelated call, heard multiple shots ring out.
The victim was in serious condition when he was taken to hospital. However, Vancouver police say the man has non-life-threatening injuries and is expected to make a full recovery.
Vancouver police taped off the park, and officers from the Emergency Response Team were also called in. Officers could be seen searching through tents.
"It's a very unique setting as it’s an open area park, but it is filled with a lot of people. Our officers did an amazing job just clearing that park for possible victims and other suspects," Const. Tania Visintin with Vancouver Police said Friday.
Visintin says several people were questioned but have since been released. Nobody has been arrested in connection to the shooting and police are still appealing for witnesses to come forward.
"I can't imagine what a terrifying situation it was for those people in the park," Visintin said.
Thursday’s shooting is renewing safety concerns about the encampment, with some calling for immediate action from the Vancouver Park Board, which has jurisdiction over the park.
"The situation in Oppenheimer Park tonight is tragic. However, I think it could have been prevented, possibly, had the park board taken the appropriate action to seek an injunction,” Vancouver Coun. Melissa De Genova told CTV News Thursday night.
Thursday's shooting marks the second in the park since October, when a woman was accidentally shot by her son.
Despite calls from police, fire and city officials, the park board voted "no" to an injunction at the end of September.
“We do an injunction and they would just be moved off into the streets and I don’t see how that is really a solution either,” said Vancouver Park Board commissioner John Irwin.
Vancouver police have repeatedly warned of violence in the park while fire crews have raised concerned about significant fire safety issues. Several tents were recently destroyed by fire.
But on Tuesday, the park board announced a conditional injunction is now part of what it calls its "decampment plan."
Among those conditions is a third party assessment of the situation at the park. The assessment would include recommendations to enhance safety and provide support and shelter for those currently living in the park.
No timeline was given on when that assessment might happen, or when the conditional injunction might take effect.
De Genova said she's concerned action by the park board needs to be taken now.
"I do hope they'll give this a second thought and that they will consider an injunction before we see another shooting," De Genova said.
“This might speed it up a bit and get people moving because we don’t want to get a call and hear that someone has been killed down there that is our greatest fear,” said Barker.
However, representatives from the Carnegie Community Action Project said moving park residents to shelters and temporary warming centres would be "ineffective and unproductive," especially because people tend to find themselves back on the streets afterwards.
"Residents have regularly requested assistance from city officials to aid in their survival by providing resources and programming given that no safe, permanent housing is being made available," a statement from the group says.
"Finding appropriate housing takes time, sometimes months, to ensure it's stable housing and suitable for the individual or family."
In the meantime, Visintin said Vancouver police would continue to be a presence in the park.
"We will continue to support the City of Vancouver as well as the park board in working with those groups to get safe and decent housing for those people in the park,” she said.
In an email Friday, the City of Vancouver said it "remains concerned about the conditions at Oppenheimer Park."
The park board also responded to an interview request by email Friday, saying in a statement that it was concerned about the wellbeing of everyone in Oppenheimer Park and the surrounding community.
"News of last night's shooting is alarming for everyone in the community," the statement said. "We will be seeking more information (Friday), as more details of the incident are made available."
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Luisa Alvarez