Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang, appointed to the housing committee, has been slandering in recent interviews the people in Oppenheimer tent city as mobs and mischief-makers who are breaking the law.
However, tent city residents are quite well-versed in the law, citing the B.C. Court’s Adams decision, the Supreme Court of Canada’s Tsilhqot’in decision, and inherent indigenous law as a defence for their stand.
The city claims that camping and structures are not allowed because they “create barriers for other residents who want to use and enjoy the park space.” These seemingly innocuous bylaws about structures in parks and public enjoyment of green spaces, in effect, criminalize poverty. “The majestic quality of the law forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under the bridges, to beg in the streets and steal bread,” Anatole France said in the early 1900s.
Pivot Legal Society launched a legal challenge two years ago to the city’s bylaws that prohibit homeless people from sleeping and sheltering outdoors. Instead of adhering to the significant Adams court decision — which ruled that Victoria bylaws that prohibited homeless people from sheltering outdoors when there is a lack of indoor shelter space were unconstitutional — our municipal government is considering increasing fines for homeless people sleeping outdoors to $10,000 per ticket.
It is also unclear whether the city officials visited the tent city before opening their mouths about public enjoyment because the tent city takes less than 20 per cent of the park. Those who frequent Oppenheimer are DTES residents, many of whom are also homeless, and none of them has registered a complaint.
Furthermore, Powell Street Festival and UGM barbecue organizers have indicated they are moving their activities out of respect for the tent city. Powell Street Festival, the longest community-run cultural festival in the city, marks the historic presence of the Japanese-Canadian community in the neighbourhood before their forced internment and removal. Festival organizers issued a statement this week: “the Powell Street Festival Society will not use the area of Oppenheimer Park where the protest is taking place and do not support the removal order or the threat of removal of residents in the park in any way.”
The city, wanting to appear reasonable, has offered a solution, “We can help people pack up and re-locate.”
It is unclear exactly where the city would like people to relocate. According to news reports, there is a pregnant woman sleeping at the tent city. Where is she to go to ensure her baby is born into a safe and secure environment without the threat of apprehension?
In a city where, despite campaign promises, homelessness has doubled in the past year while campaign-donating corporate real estate developers have provided incentives, where are tent city’s and Vancouver’s rapidly growing senior homeless population to go, to a mat in a temporary shelter, a bed-bug and rat-infested SRO? Warehousing is not the same as housing.
Given that all three levels of government pass the buck to each other (this province has the highest child poverty rate and the country is the only G8 nation without a national housing plan), it is not surprising that homeless people erected a tent city.
Herein lies the greatest power of this tent city: the refusal to continuously be displaced and dispersed out of sight, the assertion of collective power including the power to defy unjust evictions, the beautiful daily practices of strengthening community relationships including sharing of meals and talking over a sacred fire which is impossible in one hundred square feet rooms, and the undeniable affirmation by Indigenous people of their title over unceded lands.
I listened a few days ago to Audrey Siegl, a member of the Musqueam nation, who noted “This is unceded land. The city didn’t ask my permission to be here; even they have acknowledged that. Our people have been forced into a corner of the city, on to a reservation. The homeless also have nowhere to go. All people need to have livable housing.”
Her words sit with me as a reminder to respect indigenous laws as living laws. Her words are imbued with a compelling moral call about our ethical responsibilities to others. Her words are a defence of the need to take action when governments are flouting any minimal standard of decency.
The tent city is an expose of the city’s myriad hypocrisies: that it is livable, generous to all its residents, and repentant for its cycles of displacement. That is why it deserves our support.
Harsha Walia is a legally-trained activist who works in the Downtown Eastside. She is the author of Undoing Border Imperialism.
UPDATE: ATTENTION TO ALL OCCUPY SUPPORTERS AND CAMPERS
This is for you and supporters of the new REVOLUTION movement. Time to unite all groups and issues. There is no difference between Open net feed lots for farming wild salmon, pipelines and the expansion of others, open pit mining, fracturing for gas, protecting our drinking water.
They are all related when it comes to corporate government corrupt relations based solely on capitalistic greed which is at the expense of your human rights and the destructive environmental damage that is being allowed by an obviously narrow minded government that refuses to listen to the people it is suppose to represent.
JOIN UP AND MAKE THE CHANGE AND BUILD THE MOMENTUM THAT WILL FOSTER THE CHANGE NEEDED.
Saturday direct action training will be happening at Oppenheimer park. Protect the poor at the park, bring your tents and leave them if you can for ones that need them including blankets and for donations. Spend a night or 2 there to help with evening security so yu can see what poverty looks like and what it does to the human spirit. 10:00 am start for direct action training and goes to 4:00 then dinner break. Public screening of “Just do it”, a tale of modern day outlaws will be starting at 8:30 same location.
TALK IS CHEAP WALK THE TALK AND DO IT TOGETHER…..