Premier John Horgan addressed the unfolding situation in Penticton regarding the controversial closure of the Victory Church winter shelter, today (March 5) during a teleconference.
A protest has been planned this afternoon at Gyro Park in opposition to Penticton city council’s decision to not extend the Victory Church shelter for an additional year. The protest prompted Penticton RCMP to warn of potential fines for attendees.
“These orders, which are aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19, explicitly prohibit organized gatherings of any scale, such as the one being promoted this weekend,” the RCMP wrote in a news release.
Horgan touched on the subject during the announcement for new student housing to be constructed at Okanagan College’s Vernon, Salmon Arm and Kelowna campuses.
Despite the controversy over gatherings during COVID-19, Horgan said, ultimately, public safety decisions are made by local law enforcement rather than government officials.
He also said the right to protest is “part and parcel of who we are as Canadians” but that he is hopeful people will still remember we are in the middle of a global pandemic and follow public health orders.
The protest comes after B.C. Housing Minister David Eby spoke out against council’s decision to not extend the shelter, stating he believes the city has put itself at risk of creating a tent city.
This caused tension with Penticton mayor John Vassilaki, who said he does not believe a homeless encampment will establish as one never has in past years when winter shelters close. Vassilaki said Eby’s comments were “irresponsible” and that Eby was “using fear-mongering in order to get his way.”
When asked for his thoughts on the matter, Horgan said, he asked Eby to focus on the daunting task to address the homelessness crisis not just in major urban centres but across B.C.
“COVID-19 has also had an impact on our shelter bed situation, not just in our urban centres but also in places like Penticton, Vernon, Kelowna and so on,” he said. “I’m hopeful that all elected representatives will work together for a common purpose, that’s the expectation of the public. But there are times when disagreements become public and that’s again part and parcel of our democratic society.”