Once again Mayor Lisa Helps is sidestepping the opportunity to provide real leadership on camping in Victoria parks. It is now patently obvious that allowing unlimited camping in the parks is a disaster and yet she refuses to do anything different.
A city manager’s report effectively proposed continuing the status quo indefinitely, and two councillors are proposing to take another six weeks to study the problem. As we are already seeing in Central Park after the clearing out of Centennial Square, this will inevitably result in more crime, more vandalism, more threats and intimidation, and a worsening of the public health and safety crisis. Fifteen broken windows and thousands of dollars of damage at an elementary school is not OK. The mayor and head of bylaw services advising an elementary school principal and parents to teach their children “safe routes” through Beacon Hill Park is not OK. Defecating and urinating in public is not OK. Putting up signs in playgrounds expecting grandparents to “sweep” before allowing their grandchildren to use a playground is not OK. Requiring church congregations with frail and elderly members to “sweep” for used needles and other hazardous materials before celebrating their faith outdoors is not OK. Turning a blind eye to break-ins and theft at businesses already suffering massively due to the pandemic is not OK. Allowing drug dealing, chop shops, the possession of firearms, knives and imitation firearms in camps is not OK. The mayor and councillors have to open their eyes to what is really happening in this city and realize that all of Victoria is vulnerable and they are putting us all at ever increasing risk.
In a mass email sent on Aug. 30, Mayor Helps claims that it is going to take “a great deal of honesty” to get through the mess that she and council have created. The mayor needs to start by being honest with the residents, taxpayers and businesses of Victoria. In the email, Mayor Helps accepts responsibility for allowing camping in Beacon Hill but claims that she did so based on the guidance of Dr. Bonnie Henry. However, the guidance does not mandate 24-hour camping and does not prevent the city from requiring campers to pack up every morning. The guidance only states that clearing or moving encampments without immediately providing an alternative can cause people to disperse throughout the community.
The mayor needs to explain how having encampments in place for a year or two is not long-term housing. The mayor needs to explain why she allowed illegal camping in environmentally sensitive areas of Beacon Hill, continues to allow illegal activities and has prevented bylaw officers from enforcing the bylaws for months. She needs to apologize for belittling the tens of thousands of citizens who signed the petition to Save Beacon Hill. Time has inevitably shown that their concerns were valid and justified. She needs to apologize for tweeting how safe Beacon Hill Park is. Numerous incidents have demonstrated that it is not. These public safety, social and environmental issues are now spreading across all parks in the city.
The Community Charter legislation requires all council members “to consider the well-being and interests of the municipality and its community.” It is time for the provincial government to ensure that the mayor and council fulfill their legal obligations.