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Letter: Deep concern over Squamish encampment discourse

'By fostering a community that respects the rights and dignity of all residents, we can move towards a more equitable and inclusive future for Squamish that genuinely prioritizes safety for all.'
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"All residents of Squamish should indeed be frustrated by encampments," says letter writer Amanda Graves. "Encampments exist because of systemic failures, and our government’s inability to uphold each individual’s right to adequate, long-term housing."

I am writing to express my deep concern and disturbance regarding the public discourse within our community around individuals who are unhoused.

In January of this year, a petition began circulating on social media, titled “Remove Squamish Tent City." The petition itself encourages the removal of the so-called tent city (approximately four to five tents), citing District bylaws, and threats to public safety. 

The organizer states:“Working families in Squamish, property tax paying residents, and all those that expect to live in a safe community environment with their children and grand children, have earned the expectation that the District of Squamish will enforce its own bylaws and ensure the community’s safety.”

Conversations about community safety are both important and valid, however, this statement conveniently excludes the very people most impacted by an encampment; those living there. Even more concerning is an update posted by the organizer encouraging those who have signed to take photos and videos of the encampment, and alleged by-law infractions. This is a blatant dog whistle to invade the privacy and homes of vulnerable individuals. 

At the Feb. 6 council meeting, this group of residents presented the same petition, and their spokesperson made an impassioned plea to council to remove the tents, while assuring viewers that they recognized their position of privilege. However, they presented no viable solutions, or requests for engagement from the residents of the encampment in question. 

Fortunately, council members made it very clear to the group that discussions around encampments are ongoing, and that any potential solutions would not disregard the rights and dignity of any community members. They have also committed to including encampment residents in discussions.

This is not a new conversation, nor is it unique to Squamish. A report published recently by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, authored by the Federal Housing Advocate, calls for an immediate end to forced encampment evictions, particularly those on public land. The report states that “forced evictions are a violation of human rights, as contained in Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the right to adequate housing under international law.” It also highlights that the role of police and by-law officers should be de-emphasized in response to encampments.

There is legal precedent being set across the country, further reiterating that encampment evictions are inhumane and in contravention of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 2022, the city of Prince George sought an injunction to remove an encampment. Both times the injunction was denied by the B.C. Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson cited the lack of low-barrier shelter spaces, noting that while there may be beds available, they were not accessible to the residents of the encampment.

All residents of Squamish should indeed be frustrated by encampments. Encampments exist because of systemic failures, and our government’s inability to uphold each individual’s right to adequate, long-term housing. It is crucial to remember that encampment residents are also valued members of our community, deserving of dignity and respect. Directing frustration towards them, invading their privacy, or subjecting them to harassment is unacceptable. Making the request to the district to simply “rip down” the encampment does nothing more than further strain relationships and create unrealistic expectations. Relocation of encampment residents to a shelter is not a solution, and municipal governments are required to explore all available alternatives to eviction. This includes but is not limited to providing essential services to encampment residents, such as potable water, bathrooms, and fire safety equipment. This should be the primary focus of discussions. 

By fostering a community that respects the rights and dignity of all residents, we can move towards a more equitable and inclusive future for Squamish that genuinely prioritizes safety for all.

Amanda Graves
Squamish

The Squamish Chief welcomes letters to the editor of up to 400 words. Letters should be exclusive to this publication and are meant to respond to a local story in The Squamish Chief or raise an issue happening in town. Please include your name, neighbourhood and daytime phone number. The deadline is 5 p.m. Monday to be considered for Thursday’s edition. Full names and neighbourhood will be published with the letter. The publisher reserves the right to refuse and edit letters for length and clarity or to address legal concerns. Email letters to: editor@squamishchief.com.

 

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