An appeal from the province regarding a B.C. Supreme Court decision that determined sheltering does not fall under the intended uses of Beacon Hill Park has been dismissed.
The decision was made Tuesday (Feb. 21).
The City of Victoria applied for the direction of the Supreme Court of B.C. on a question about whether the use of the park for temporary overnight sheltering by unhoused people is consistent with the 1882 Trustee Act that protects it. A judge held that the answer to the question was no.
The province’s appeal included that the question required a more qualified answer, namely, “no, except to the extent that an individual experiencing homelessness has a need to fulfil a basic necessity of life by erecting a temporary overnight shelter in a public place and has nowhere else to go but the park.”
In a 2022 statement to Black Press Media, then-Attorney General and Housing Minister David Eby said the province was concerned the ruling could set a precedent for how other B.C. parks with trusts can be used going forward.
A summary of Tuesday’s decision states that the question posed by the trustee must be reframed to ensure that it relates solely to the management and administration of the trust property, and does not purport to limit the constitutional rights of others, including persons experiencing homelessness to shelter in the park when they have no other options.
The terms of the trust are that the park is to be used for the recreation and enjoyment of the public, which does not include overnight sheltering.
Justice John Hunter recommended that the question be reframed to the following: “Is the use of Beacon Hill Park for temporary overnight sheltering by persons experiencing homelessness consistent with the trust conditions under which the City of Victoria holds the park?”
Hunter added that he would say “no” to this question and would dismiss the appeal. Justice Mary Newbury and Justice Peter Voith agreed.
Unhoused individuals set up camp in the park during the COVID-19 pandemic, when sheltering space was reduced. Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society initiated the litigation that cleared out people who were sheltering in the park.
Some unhoused people and advocates have pointed out that the land now called Beacon Hill Park was inhabited by the Lekwungen people long before colonizers pushed them out.
– With files from Jane Skrypnek