At Strathcona Park, in Vancouver, an entire village of homeless campers still occupying 400 tents after over three months. Concerns have mounted about the spread of COVID-19 among hundreds of people living in tight quarters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

At Strathcona Park, in Vancouver, an entire village of homeless campers still occupying 400 tents after over three months. Concerns have mounted about the spread of COVID-19 among hundreds of people living in tight quarters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Who controls Vancouver’s Strathcona park? Police clash with tent city residents

Vancouver councillor says it’s clear the encampment is ‘under the leadership of criminal elements’

By Jen St. Denis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Tyee

Two Vancouver city councillors say plans to remove a tent city in Strathcona Park should be accelerated following a series of events Tuesday when camp residents challenged the presence of police and local politicians in the park.

Coun. Pete Fry said it’s clear the camp has come to be “under the leadership of criminal elements,” while Coun. Rebecca Bligh said the incidents that happened this week have made it clear to her that “criminal activity” is happening in the park.

Camp organizer Chrissy Brett disputed that characterization, calling Fry’s comments a “stereotypical, ignorant view on homelessness.”

An estimated 200 to 400 residents having been living in the park at various times since June after a previous tent city in Oppenheimer Park, also supported by Brett, was closed in May.

But Fry denies he made the comments, and said he has only been at the Union Market once in the past month…

The city and park board have put in place a slow-moving plan to move people from the tent city — also known as Camp Kennedy Trudeau, or Camp KT — as spaces in shelters or housing become available. The goal is to relocate residents by April.

But Bligh said it’s become clear that gradual plan is no longer feasible.

RELATED: Young man assaulted, left for 12 hours until help called in Vancouver’s Strathcona Park

“We and our staff have worked incredibly hard to try and achieve the desired outcome, which was really to acknowledge the fact that we are in a housing crisis, that people need housing and that the most humane way to decamp Strathcona Park is to… find people housing and then humanely clear the park,” Bligh told The Tyee.

“But what is clear… is that there is more criminal activity happening in that park than there is legitimate homelessness. It’s time to clear the park.”

Just after midnight on Tuesday, police arrived at the tent city to execute a search warrant in connection with a violent home invasion that led to the death of 78-year-old Usha Singh who lived near Queen Elizabeth Park, about six kilometres from the camp.

Pascal Bouthilette, 41, has been charged with second-degree murder and Sandy Parisian, 47, with manslaughter. Police charge the two men dressed as police officers to get inside Usha Singh’s home.

Parisian was known to live at the tent city, said Steve Addison, a media liaison officer with the VPD, and was arrested near the park.

Addison said a large and “volatile” group of people interfered when police went to the tent city in the early hours of Tuesday morning to execute a search warrant in connection with the case.

“Approximately 50 people did encroach upon them and attempt to interfere in the work that they were doing,” Addison said during a press conference, adding the situation became so volatile that officers had to call in help from across the city.

Video posted to YouTube and Facebook show supporters of the camp alleging the police didn’t have a search warrant and pointed weapons at Indigenous youth and women. The video shows police officers holding rifles with the gun barrels pointed towards the ground.

At several points in the video, camp supporters tell police to leave because park land is on unceded Indigenous territory. One police officer responds that Strathcona Park is a public city park. At another point, when camp supporters demand to see the search warrant, the officer tells them he can only show the search warrant to the person being served with it for privacy reasons.

In the videos, the camp supporters are at times drumming and singing, and at other times yelling and swearing at police.

On Tuesday afternoon, three city councillors — Fry, Bligh and Lisa Dominato — went to the edge of the park to do an interview with a Global News journalist.

READ MORE: Specialist who treated rare disease among homeless wants doctors to be aware of signs

Fry and Bligh said they were confronted by several camp residents who asked them to leave the park, which is about two kilometres from the Downtown Eastside. The councillors said they were on the very edge of the park at the corner of Hawks Avenue and Prior Street, far from the tent city.

“A woman in a scooter asked what we were doing and told us to leave the park because it was on unceded territory,” said Fry, who lives in the neighbourhood. “We advised her that we were city councillors and it was a public park. She left and returned with the quote-unquote Warriors.”

Those people told the city councillors they had to leave, Fry said. The situation didn’t feel safe, so he and the other councillors left the park.

Parisian, the man charged with manslaughter, has previously called himself the “Mayor of Oppenheimer Park,” Fry said, indicating he held some sort of leadership position at the previous tent city. Fry said it appears that certain people associated with the tent city are controlling who can go into the park.

“What I saw yesterday was a level of lawlessness that enables other lawless people,” he said.

Brett has previously told The Tyee that camp leaders and residents do control who can live in the main tent city, and they reject anyone who has been violent towards other people. In the past few months, camp residents have erected small fences around their area of the park to demarcate “Camp Kennedy Trudeau” from others who have also set up tents in the large city park.

Fry pointed out that several other violent incidents have happened at both Strathcona Park and Oppenheimer Park, including a man who was beaten and left unattended at Strathcona Park for 12 hours during daylight hours. The man, Carl Sinclair, later lost his leg.

Brett said violent incidents also happen in single-room occupancy hotel buildings in Vancouver’s nearby Downtown Eastside, but those buildings don’t receive as much scrutiny as the homeless camp at the park.

But Fry said he doesn’t know of any SRO buildings where management actively interfere with police investigations.

“I think that we need to assert a little bit more control in this situation,” Fry said. “I don’t think it’s fair. It’s a challenging issue for the housed residents .125of Strathcona.375, but I think it’s also the unhoused residents who… deserve the same rights and freedoms and protections as anyone, and not to be sort of bullied by a gang.”

Brett said the comments Fry has been making to the media and in the Strathcona neighbourhood have been upsetting to people who have experienced homelessness.

“A veteran who suffers from severe PTSD and with plates and pins throughout his body and who was at my first tent city showed up here to visit,” Brett told The Tyee via text message. “He overheard Pete Fry at the Union .125Market.375 and he showed up in tears. He could not believe the crap Pete Fry was spouting.”

Brett said that she would have offered to invite Fry to “a talking circle and request his allyship rather than his stereotypical, ignorant view on .125the.375 homeless.”

Regarding the incident on Tuesday afternoon when city councillors were told to leave the park, Brett said she didn’t witness it.

“If they brought the same attitude VPD brought, I would probably refuse them past protocol stage,” she said. Protocol refers to an Indigenous practice the camp leaders have been requiring of all visitors which involves asking them to offer tobacco to a fire in a gesture of good intentions.

In 2008 and again in 2015, the B.C. Supreme Court struck down city bylaws — one in Victoria and the other in Abbotsford — that prohibited people from erecting shelters or sleeping in city parks. The rulings did allow municipalities to require people to pack up their tents each day.

Fry said he’d like to see a process similar to the measures Surrey used to clear the Whalley Strip in 2018, a portion of sidewalk where many homeless people lived and pitched tents. The city and province partnered to offer housing or shelter spots to people, but also made it clear that tenting would no longer be allowed on that site.

Oppenheimer Park was cleared in May after the province bought or leased several hotels and offered housing to people. As people moved out of the park, fencing was put up so no new tents could go in.

Ten months later, the park in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood remains closed to the public.

Strathcona ParkVancouverVancouver police

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Old English design elements can be seen in the sign of the Summerland Farm and Garden Centre in 1993. The guidelines are no longer in place, but some downtown businesses still show aspects of the days when Summerland had a theme in place. This photo was taken by Summerland photographer Dan Dorotich. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Summerland’s Old English theme has been abandoned

From the 1980s until the early 2000s, Summerland had design guidelines in its downtown

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Residents of Rural Keremeos, Olalla and Hedley are being asked to give feedback for the first Official Community Plan for the area. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)
Survey on RDOS Area G OCP open until April 30

The area’s first Official Community Plan is in the early stages of development

Nominally 'flushable' wipes caused one of Keremeos lift stations to shut down, damaging the pump inside. The Village is asking residents not to flush anything that isn't human waste. (Black Press)
Keremeos reminds residents not to flush wipes after pump damaged

‘Flushable’ wipes caused the pump to seize up and burn out

Black Crow Cannabis is just one of Vernon's many pot shops now open in town. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Kelowna has highest cannabis fees in Okanagan

Vernon’s 14 stores pay second highest business licence fees

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Firefighters battled a burning home on farmland in the north end of Vernon Saturday, April 17, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
UPDATE: Homeowner taken to hospital after Vernon home destroyed by fire

Firefighters engaged in a lengthy battle against the engulfed structure Saturday afternoon

Members of the Okanagan Screen Arts Society received a cheque for $1,500 Thursday, April 15, 2021. The funds are to help the society’s efforts as they prepare take over operation of the Vernon Towne Cinema at the end of July. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Okanagan dealership gives local cinema a lift

Vernon Watkin Motor Ford, in business for more than 100 years, donated to the theatre with nearly as long a history

Vernon Jubilee Hospital. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared over in surgical unit of Vernon hospital

The outbreak affected four staff, 10 patients and led to three deaths in just over two weeks

A group of youth in Kelowna's Knox Mountain Park are suspected as having violated the B.C. Wildlife Act by harassing a pair of nesting bald eagles with a drone Friday, April 16, 2021. (Conservation Officer Service photo)
Nesting bald eagles harassed by youth-piloted drone in Kelowna

Conservation Officers are hoping to hear from anyone who witnessed the Knox Mountain incident

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

Most Read