Several families united in solidarity last week after one group, consisting of mixed-race individuals, was evicted from Wrights Beach campground on alleged noise complaints. Just after the group was evicted, they posted together for a photo. Just days before, they were strangers to each other. Now, lifelong friends. (Submitted)

Alleged racially-motivated eviction from Okanagan campground sparks outcry

“It was wrong and it needs to be addressed,” says neighbour after mixed-race family evicted

When the only mixed-race group at Wrights Beach Camp in Penticton was evicted from their campsite for alleged noise complaints, those in neighbouring sites couldn’t help but question why.

Andrea Klaver and her group, which consisted of three mixed-race families from the Vancouver area, had set up camp at their beachfront site beside Monica Thiessen and her family, as well as Steve Wikkerink and his family from the Central and North Okanagan. Both groups arrived at the two sites on Saturday, Aug. 29, and were planning on staying for a week.

From the perspective of Wikkerink and Thiessen, it’s alleged Klaver’s group was not only treated unfairly but possibly targeted because of the colour of their skin. Among Klaver’s group were seven Black children and two Black men.

The eviction came after a series of alleged noise complaints against Klaver and her group, several days before they were due to leave.

“Was a racial slur ever said? No. But when you’re treated differently, and you’re the only Black people there, I think, you know, assumptions can be made… it’s really disgusting,” said Klaver.

One of the men in Klaver’s group was playing some tropical tunes on the beach in the afternoon. Wikkerink found the music relaxing and enjoyable; he noticed others around him must have liked the melody as he spotted an older couple, on the other side of Klaver’s site, dancing together. However, that night, the group was given a noise complaint.

“We could just make out what the songs were, and we were just beside them. Never at any point would I ever say they were excessively loud with it (music) whatsoever. In all honesty, I would have never thought that they would have gotten a noise complaint about the sound of their music,” said Wikkerink.

The next night, at about 6 p.m., Klaver’s group was again told to turn off their music. Wikkerink said this surprised them, as they were also playing music in their site, possibly louder and were not spoken to. Throughout Wikkerink’s time at the campground he said his group did not receive a single comment, warning or noise complaint.

“We had a tiny little speaker with soft music, and they came to us and said your music is way too loud, even though the people beside us were louder than us, we were the only ones singled out. It was a little weird,” said Klaver.

“The same thing happened every time – they would drive by our campsite and just glare into our campsite to see what we were doing. It was the most peculiar thing I’d ever seen.”

Again the following night at about 6 p.m., the campground owner visited Klaver’s site and demanded their turn their music off. Wikkerink stressed to him at the time that they weren’t bothering anyone, and that all of their families were enjoying themselves. However, he recalled the owner insisting he had received multiple complaints about Klaver and her group.

The following night again, the group received another noise complaint. Wikkerink again insisted their family didn’t hear the group beside them.

“I did not hear them, no music, no talking, no nothing,” he said.

By this point, children in the two campsites had gotten to know each other and were playing games throughout the day. Outside of the noise complaints, Wikkerink said Klaver’s children, the only children of colour in their group, were allegedly singled out from the other Caucasian children they were playing with.

“Our kids were all up on a hillside, there were other kids from the campground up there as well. Klaver’s kids were told to go back to their campsite… when they were told to get off that hillside, and all the other kids were fine to play there, we just couldn’t wrap our heads around it all,” said Wikkerink.

“It’s rather coincidental, but is it?” said Klaver about the incident.

This continued until the group was evicted from their site early Thursday morning.

The group of children who played together at Wrights Beach campground last week, pose for a photo just after one of the groups was evicted. (Submitted)

In response to a request for comment, Wrights Beach Camp representative Paul Lionello detailed the timestamps of warnings given to the party in question. He said loud music at any time is not tolerated, and that if their policies are ignored, customers may be asked to leave. He also detailed another eviction due to multiple noise warnings on Aug. 30.

The warnings, he explained, were given from August 29 through September 3, several times between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. as well as around 6 p.m.

Thiessen said she received the same response and denied that her neighbours were loud or disrespectful, especially this late at night.

“Their timeline is absolutely false, one hundred per cent,” she said. “They did not get the complaints like he said they did, that did not happen.”

Come Thursday morning Klaver was having her morning coffee outside when she was told they had to leave and that they were not welcome back.

“I was flabbergasted, like what?” said Klaver. “Several people tried to speak up for us because they realized we weren’t the loud ones, and the campground staff was completely unwilling to listen.”

She said news of their eviction spread quickly around the campground.

“People I’d never met before, adults, an old man came to me to hug me, and he was crying because he couldn’t believe that he witnessed what he witnessed. Countless campers came up to us to say how disgusted they were.”

Within 15 minutes of them departing their campsite that morning, Klaver said their campsite, and the one beside it was already filled with a new group.

“It is our belief that it was pre-planned to kick us out, and they had people waiting in the wings to take our spot,” she said.

Lionello furthered in his response that throughout this season, they have asked several customers to leave due to violations of their noise policy.

Wikkerink said their neighbours’ eviction was unexplainable. He and another parent say they tried to reason with the park authorities but their opinions were ignored.

This prompted Thiessen to pen a social media post about the incident, which has gained traction. As of Wednesday, Sept. 9, the post had close to 1000 shares.

“It was wrong. It was wrong and it needs to be addressed,” she said.

After the incident, two children in their group, 15 and 17 years old, were quite distraught.

“The word he (17-year-old boy) used over and over again, was that he was so embarrassed he got kicked out for being Black,” said Klaver. “Because they (kids) are raised to accept people and look at their personalities. He’s like, if I have a good personality, and I’m a nice kid, why does he hate me?”

She added that the Caucasian children in the group are also confused.

“It’s my understanding that… it’s not just our Black kids who are affected, but the white kids also, especially those from the Okanagan. They feel they’ve never really seen racism in front of their eyes before.”

In response to the alleged racism, Lionello said discrimination of any kind is against their values.

“Discrimination of any kind is against our values and policies both professionally and personally. We at Wright’s Beach Camp do our best to promote a positive experience for all of our guests and to ensure rules and/or enforcement thereof are communicated clearly, proactively and equally,” he said in an email.

Thiessen said that following her post, she has been private messaged by several mixed, bi-racial families that have also been evicted from Wrights Beach campground.

“Honestly I can’t say it’s racially motivated, but from my point of view looking at it, there’s no other justification for it.”

As for Thiessen and her group, who have been camping at Wrights Beach campground since 1998, say they will never return. Despite this being their family-favourite beach. Wikkerink echoed this.

Perhaps a silver lining, Wikkerink and Klaver both explained, is that they have made new lifelong friends. The families are already planning another time to meet up.

“Our kids are all friends on social media now… they are super close. It’s been really cool to see,” said Wikkerink. “We’ll probably be friends with them for a very, very long time. I don’t see that ever-changing. I think that it came down to a group of people that stood up for each other, helped each other out, and worked each other through a crappy turn of events.”

@PentictonNews
editor@pentictonwesternnews.com

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