Park board reject staff recommendation to seek injunction for Oppenheimer

Credit to Author: Dan Fumano| Date: Sat, 07 Sep 2019 02:03:55 +0000

Vancouver’s park board has decided, for now, against seeking a court injunction to clear the tent city in Oppenheimer Park.

In an in-camera meeting Thursday evening, park board commissioners voted against a recommendation, from park board general manager Malcolm Bromley, to seek an injunction, chair Stuart Mackinnon said Friday.

On Aug. 19, Bromley issued an evacuation order for Oppenheimer, which at one point contained close to 200 tents. For the evacuation notice — ordering occupants to remove tents and vacate the park by Aug. 21 — Bromley didn’t need the approval of the elected park board commissioners, but a court injunction would require their support, said Mackinnon.

The deadline for Bromley’s evacuation order passed without police stepping in, and most of those previously camping in the Downtown Eastside park had accepted offers of social housing by last week. However, about 60 tents remained in the park by the end of last week.

Mackinnon said he understood B.C. Housing does not have suitable homes for all park residents. Although there is space in temporary shelters, he said, many Oppenheimer occupants feel safer sleeping in the park than in a shelter.

“Simply removing people from Oppenheimer Park, which may force them onto the streets, the back lanes and to other parks is not a solution,” said Mackinnon, who also called on the city to strike a task force with the provincial and federal governments to tackle homelessness.

Chrissy Brett, a tent city liaison and part-time resident, cries as Vancouver Park Board board chair Stuart Mackinnon discusses the future of the homeless occupying Oppenheimer Park. The board decided to allow the tents to stay for the time-being. Jason Payne / PNG

Housing activist Chrissy Brett welcomed the board’s decision, calling it “entirely noble.”

On Tuesday, Postmedia reported Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart had told Mackinnon last week he wanted the park board to consider transferring jurisdiction of Oppenheimer Park to the city, and Stewart publicly announced his request Wednesday.

Thursday afternoon, Mackinnon issued a statement saying: “The park board will be taking Mayor Stewart’s request to return Oppenheimer Park to its normal operations under consideration.”

But the board did not vote at Thursday evening’s meeting on Stewart’s request to temporarily cede control of Oppenheimer, said Mackinnon.

Following Mackinnon’s press conference, Stewart issued a statement saying: “While I have already made a personal request to park board chair Mackinnon to consider this request seriously and urgently, I have reiterated this request in writing to him.”

Stewart urged the park board to meet before their next scheduled meeting on Sept. 16, and vote on his request.

Vancouver Park Board board chair Stuart Mackinnon discusses the future of the homeless tent city occupying Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver. The board decided to allow the tents to stay for the time-being. Jason Payne / PNG

Non-Partisan Association park commissioner John Coupar said that after the board decided Thursday to make public the results of in camera votes from over the summer, he was able to disclose he had proposed a motion back in June to seek an injunction for Oppenheimer. Coupar’s motion was defeated, he said, with the support of only his fellow NPA commissioner Tricia Barker.

Coupar said he was also the only vote Thursday night in favour of seeking an injunction, and that Barker was out of town and not present for the meeting.

“I believe that everybody does deserve a home as well,” Coupar said. “But I do not believe that is the mandate of the Vancouver Park Board. The mandate of the Vancouver Park Board is to provide clean and safe parks for everybody, and I think this is a dangerous precedent.”

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