Encampment on west side Highway 97
Updated: Oct 20
2023 10 20:
MoTI will take the lead on the next steps and will investigate the camp. The encampment is on Crown land, under MoTI jurisdiction; RDOS doesn't have a role/authority. If anything new arises, I will update this page.
Thank you to the citizens who informed me of the encampment on the west side of Highway 97, south of Sage Mesa Drive.
You can watch the board discussion here.
From the PivotLegal.org:
The BCSC (BC Supreme Court) ruling allows people to erect shelters and sleep in public spaces and parks between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. The decision means unhoused people can not be evicted from public spaces and parks during those hours. More info here and here.
However, the encampment below Greater West Bench presents a fire risk and digging into the clay banks for shelter is of concern (Geoteck, October 2021). This encampment is on crown land under the Ministry of Transportation Infrastructure (MoTI) jurisdiction. The RDOS has no authority here. MoTI will send crews to clean the camp, but MoTI will not remove citizens. The RCMP can take action if there is stolen property/criminal activity. Because of the provincial legislation, the RCMP cannot stop people from overnighting there. There is also a role for Conservation Officers, but I am unsure what that role is (working on it). I understand that the Penticton Fire Chief can go to the site to assess the risk. If there is a fire/citizen safety risk, action might be warranted. I have yet to be introduced to the new Fire Chief and am also working on that.
Getting MoTI, Fire, RCMP, Conservation, and RDOS to coordinate efforts is challenging, and there are no easy answers. Evicting these citizens simply move the unhoused further along the highway or into Penticton and RDOS Parks (including Selby and Mariposa), where their right to camp is protected. This is provincial legislation, and it is complex. Here is your MLA's email: dan.ashton.MLA@leg.bc.ca.
My immediate aim is to try and get an entity with the right authority to assess the encampment for risk. I am also determining if the RD has the legislation to support this endeavour. I have the commitment from S/Sgt. Vatamaniuck that the RCMP will assist in that risk assessment (to keep the peace), but determining who has the authority on this piece of land on this particular matter is not straightforward. It isn't the RDOS.
I've asked RD staff to create a collaborative table with all stakeholders (Outreach, MoTI, RDOS, RCMP, Fire Protection, Guardians, First Nations, municipalities, MLAs, etc.) to determine a regional approach. Pushing unhoused around the valley isn't the answer. This issue will not resolve itself, and we need collective agreements to keep all citizens safe. I have asked this issue to be part of the RD's strategic planning sessions beginning in November.
I will keep this post updated as we move forward.