The province is appealing a B.C. Supreme Court decision that determined sheltering does not fall under the intended uses of Beacon Hill Park.
In a statement to Black Press Media, Attorney General and Housing Minister David Eby said the province is concerned the ruling could set a precedent for how other B.C. parks with trusts can be used going forward.
“(It) raises questions about the way that changes to all of these parks’ uses can be undertaken by the province or by the cities where these parks are located, questions about the applicability of the Charter, and more specifically, questions about how the province should address local First Nations’ concerns about this particular park,” he said.
The question of Beacon Hill Park’s uses was brought to the court by the City of Victoria in spring 2021, as it sought to determine whether sheltering should be allowed under the 1882 Trustee Act that protects it.
Dozens of unhoused people set up camp in the park during the pandemic, when sheltering space was reduced and indoor options exposed them to a greater risk of contracting COVID-19. It quickly became a contentious issue in the community, with outspoken people on either side.
Some unhoused individuals and advocates pointed out at the time that the land now called Beacon Hill Park was inhabited by the Lekwungen people long before colonizers pushed them out. With a disproportionate number of unhoused individuals being Indigenous, some people questioned whether the decision of sheltering in the park should be based on the trustee act at all.
On Feb. 24 though, the court ruled the park is not intended for sheltering. It said it would be up to the city, as trustee, to determine what action to take.
Now, the province is pushing back.
Eby said he understands the community remains worried about Beacon Hill Park being used as an encampment in the future and that the province is working to shelter everyone experiencing homelessness. Still, local First Nations’ concerns and questions around the ruling’s impact on other parks have convinced the province to take action.
It filed its official notice of appeal March 23. Eby said he is unable to comment further as the matter is before the courts.
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