27 September 2019

Oppenheimer Park: We can have safety with compassion

The following are remarks I made last night at a Special Meeting of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation called to discuss Oppenheimer Park. You can view them here: http://bit.ly/32kDA0J

No one has a monopoly on compassion. No one has a monopoly on caring about safety and security. I believe that every elected representative in Vancouver wants the best for the residents of the city. I have said that the decisions made by this Board have been done out of compassion, but I have also said the Board believes that safety is of paramount concern. 

These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. We can have safety with compassion. The focus tonight, and for the past months, has been on Oppenheimer park. But it is not the only park that have tents in it. Commissioners have to see that all parks are susceptible to camping and many do have campers in them. 

Our by-laws do not reflect this, but the Supreme Court of British Columbia has said that in the absence of alternatives, camping in parks is acceptable. In a landmark case in 2015, Justice Hinkson said that that homeless people are allowed to erect temporary shelters in parkland because of a lack of accessible shelter space in the city. Hinkson’s ruling struck down a bylaw banning temporary shelters in local parks. While he did restrict this to the hours between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. he said tents were allowed.

More than anything I want to find safe and secure housing for the people in Oppenheimer park and return the park to the community as a public space. This is what this Board has been asking for. 

In a recent interview, Theo Lamb of the Strathcona BIA, said that an injunction would lead to a quick displacement, and without a thoughtful plan ‘just move people out, moves them around’. She reiterated that this is not just an Oppenheimer issue, Strathcona issue, it is a city issue.

Tonight, we have heard the consequences of not having adequate housing or a plan in place to find this. The Park Board cannot supply housing and so we ask, we implore, the City and the province of British Columbia to find safe and secure housing for not only the campers in Oppenheimer, but to all of the people who are homeless.

Many of the people camping in Oppenheimer and throughout the city are indigenous. This discussion, like all we have at the Park Board, must be done through the lens of reconciliation. I would like to read something into the record here:

We have endured a lot. Where the connection to cultural identity has been lost, many Aboriginal people live with a constant sense of contradiction and compromise. The challenge is trying to live in two worlds, while currently being ill-equipped to live in either one. But when we are culturally strong in our world, Aboriginal people are strong living in any world. The key is being able to control one’s life. It’s about being able to make decisions over how that life unfolds.

These are the words of the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould from 2007 when she was the BC Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. 

No decision should be made without hearing from the people in the park. I encourage senior levels of the police and fire and the City to reach out and have deep and meaningful discussions with those in the park.

Yesterday I met with the Mayor and had a robust and frank conversation. We talked about ways the city could help and how Park Board could be supportive. I am optimistic that solutions can be found.

City Council will debate 2 motions next week to address this. I thank them for their commitment to the residents of the City, those with and without housing. I commend them for taking the leadership in this. I pray that a solution will be found that is fair and just to all members of the community and will lead to a safer neighbourhood for everyone.

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