SNUNEYMUXW TERRITORY (NANAIMO): On Tuesday October 9th at a regular meeting with representatives of Discontent City, Nanaimo’s Director of Public Safety and Fire Chief Karen Fry announced that the City is rejecting the Province’s offer of support to keep the tent city open until 170 new rooms in Atco trailers are ready. Fire Chief Fry told camp representatives, “campers should know that Friday October the 12th at midnight is the deadline [to leave].” The City of Nanaimo is saying, against the advice and support offered by the Province, when the injunction deadline passes Friday, any vehicle remaining will be impounded and then soon-after, any person remaining will be arrested.
Four days earlier, on Friday October 5th, the Province’s Minister of Housing Selena Robinson made a significant announcement that they would provide security resources to the City to keep the camp open until residents can be moved into new housing. The Province’s announcement said they would provide money to staff the camp with security personnel and ensure no new resident can move in. Minister Robinson said they hoped the City would agree to hold off on enforcing their court injunction to break the camp, but the decision ultimately rested with the City.
Organizer Amber McGrath, who was at the meeting, explains that neither the Province’s offer to turn Discontent City into a prison camp, nor the City’s injunction are acceptable courses of action. “Karen Fry said they will enforce the injunction order starting Friday,” she said. “Anyone who refuses to leave or who tries to stop the City from ‘cleaning up’ the site will be arrested.”
A transcript from a phone recording of the meeting captures Chief Fry’s words. “The order comes into effect at midnight on the 12th,” she said. “People have had 21 days to make plans. Am I going to tell you that we’re going to swoop in at midnight with a big SWAT team? I’m not going to say.”
Fry offered nothing but bus tickets out of town for residents who have friends and family to stay with, “a map of the City’s parks” for those who don’t, and a “resource tent” staffed by outreach workers, which is only being put in place now, mere days before the injunction. And even she admitted that “there are not a lot of options out there;” outreach workers cannot place people in housing and shelters that do not exist.
The reality is that there is no housing or shelter available for all the tent city’s residents. Rod, who is on the camp council replied, “There are over 300 people here and we have nowhere to go. Where are we supposed to go? Your backyard? There are no options. We took our only option last Friday and you threw us out [of the Rutherford School].”
Whereas the Province’s strategy is to do the bare minimum to appear to be responding reasonably to the crisis of homelessness, including warehousing people in Atco trailers and submitting them to constant surveillance, the City’s strategy is an expulsion program. By sabotaging the Province’s plans and ejecting over 300 people, they will be exposing the homeless of Nanaimo to the same harms that drove them to start Discontent City in the first place: harassment and violence carried out by bylaw, police, and vigilantes like the Soldiers of Odin who organized two rallies to attack the camp just this summer.
Discontent City residents are calling the City of Nanaimo to call off their attack Friday. Rod, a camp leader, called their displacement plan for what it is, “a death sentence” for the most vulnerable amongst the hundreds of people who have made Discontent City home.