A local park may have served as an outdoor crystal-meth cooking lab.
The public heard that claim Monday, when Dorothy Chambers with the Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park accused Saanich of not doing enough to enforce a new bylaw aimed to deter squatting.
“Last Thursday, a community member came across what appears to be I’m told a crystal meth cooking lab in Cuthbert Holmes Park,” said Chambers in a presentation to council.
To buttress this claim, Chambers presented a picture of what she said was a 20-litre-container of “stolen” industrial strength chlorine. The site where the community member discovered this item last week also included acetone, a bucket of hydrochloric acid and a five gallon of cooking oil.
“It’s in a camp [of homeless people] and it is surrounded by about half a dozen open fire pits with cook stove apparatus,” said Chambers in relaying this second-hand-information.
The Saanich News could not independently confirm the previous presence of these items, nor the claim that individuals living in the camp had used these items as part of an illegal operation producing illegal drugs.
According to Chambers, Saanich Police were not aware of the chemicals.
“I learned today in conversations with [Saanich Police] Chief Bob Downie and other police that they were not informed about all these stolen chemicals that were in the park and the crystal meth lab,” she said. “These are highly flammable, combustible, deadly chemicals that were being cooked in Cuthbert Holmes Park, where the children come through from school every day. The whole place smells like acetone.”
According to Chambers, Saanich parks staff removed the items, but without the proper precautions.
If these chemicals were in a home, the neighbourhood would have been evacuated and a Hazmat team would have cleaned up the site, said Chambers, adding that she spent Monday talking to provincial and federal officials in trying to assess potential effects.
“No one really knows the extent of the damage that these chemicals caused,” said Chambers, who expressed deep concerns about the potential effects of the chemicals on the nearby Colquitz River, a fish-bearing river.
“If any of those chemicals spilled, we will have nothing for 10 years,” she said.
This presentation from Chambers came just two weeks after council ratified a new bylaw designed to deter squatting. It authorizes the “seizure, removal and disposition of chattels” – personal possessions – from Saanich parks like Cuthbert Holmes.
While the bylaw came into effect April 23, Chambers said Saanich has not done enough to advertise it and enforce it.
To this end, Chambers described an incident Monday during which a camper named Kevin acted aggressively towards her, yelling at her and following her into an isolated part of the park.
Concerned for her safety, Chambers called for police. According to her, officers responding to the scene “had absolutely no idea” about the chattel removal bylaw being in effect.
“There is no follow up, there is no response,” said Chambers in response to comments from Mayor Richard Atwell, who had said that the number of campers in the park had gone down to four from 10.
While Atwell said he was not sure what Saanich could have done more in a preventative capacity, he promised to touch base with various actors, including Saanich Police.