Saanich authorities step up enforcement around tent city

Saanich Police are encouraging businesses around the tent city in Regina Park to reach out to them.

The camp borders several commercial areas including Uptown, Saanich Plaza and Munro Centre, where the Saanich News office is located.

“Yes we have attended various businesses in and around the area including these locations,” said Sgt. Jereme Leslie. “We’ve spoken to the businesses about what they’re seeing as a result of the encampment at Regina Park. We’re encouraging them to report both criminal and suspicious activities.”

Those conversations have revealed that people in the area are not reporting incidents. “This could be for a variety of reasons,” he said. “[However] one thing that we’re hearing repeatedly is that they don’t want to bother the police, or, what can the police do about it anyway. We want people to know that we’re here to keep them safe, prevent crime from happening and solve crime. If we don’t know about issues that are happening then we can’t allocate our officers appropriately.”

Leslie said affected individuals should call regardless. “Maybe there’s something we can do and even if it ends up that it’s just reported, you may be helping someone else not have to go through the same type of situation.”

Looking at specifics, total calls for service in the area that includes Uptown, Saanich Plaza and Munro Centre topped 536 -between May 1 and July 9 – up from 316 during the same period last year. Property crimes rose to 112 from 50 year-to-year.

In the meantime, Saanich’s top firefighter says his department is focusing efforts on protecting the residents of the tent city Regina Park and the surrounding neighbourhood in rejecting the argument that the District is using fire safety to pursue the dissolution of the camp.

Fire Chief Mike Burgess said in an interview that the encampment at Regina Park near Uptown remains an evolving legal matter. Until resolved, his department’s focus remains on remedying the fire safety infractions at the encampment for the protection of the 75 people who are living there, as well as the surrounding neighbourhood and its residents, Burgess said.

“We are not going around looking for infractions,” he said.

He made those comments in an interview during which he responded to claims that Saanich was using fire safety regulations to prep the ground for the camp’s dissolution. The charge emerged after Saanich Police had arrested one of the camp leaders, Chrissy Brett, when she had placed herself between authorities and the personal possessions of an encampment resident.

Residents of Camp Namegans (as they call it) and the Alliance Against Displacement, a local advocacy group, said in a release that Saanich “is attempting to bypass the path of a court-ordered injunction by deploying fire marshals to do their dirty work.”

The release added that it was “unacceptable” for police to arrest Brett for her actions. “[We] refuse to be broken by the [municipality]’s thinly veiled attempt to destroy the camp under the duplicitous banner of “’fire safety compliance,’” it read.

In other parts of the release, the department stands accused of provoking and harassing residents. Burgess said he did not want to respond to this political agenda.

“There are some significant fire and life risks in the encampment, and we have been making progress working collaboratively with camp residents to remedy those hazards,” he said.

Burgess said department officers will continue to visit the site daily to help address the outstanding issues.

He acknowledged relations between fire authorities and Brett have been “strained” in pointing to Friday’s arrest. This said, authorities received a “higher degree” of compliance after Brett’s arrest, he said.

wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com

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