LETTER: Don’t punish vanlifers, Squamish council | Squamish Chief

LETTER: Don’t punish vanlifers, Squamish council

At the time of writing this letter, it is unknown what council will decide regarding amending the camping bylaw into a full blanket ban which many constituents opposed last year, and that Pivot Legal strongly advised against as it violates Section 7 of the Canadian Charter, and B.C. Human Rights. Regardless, like last year, the way council and the District have gone about it is flawed. Many people rely on public spaces. Evicting them off public land during a pandemic seems unruly. Are vehicle residents considered less worthy simply because of their situation or living choices?

While it is classic of governments to take advantage of a situation like COVID-19 to pass controversial laws, doing so without warning to those impacted, and at a time when people cannot gather to protest, is undemocratic and lacks transparency.

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Brennan Park campground has been suggested as the to-go place for what I would call this modern-day form of assimilation. People who live in vehicles know how to wash their hands, and do not need to be forced into a crowded campground to do so — especially at a time of COVID. This isn’t a safe solution. In fact, no solution has been presented for the Vehicle Residents of Squamish. Amending this controversial bylaw before any viable solutions that work for both parties is found leaves vehicle residents in a precarious position. While a consultant was hired, the work is not complete, nor does it guarantee anything but allow the council to say ‘they tried.’

The VRS has submitted two proposals for both a permit system and safe lots as potential solutions, to which we’ve had no response.

I do not deny that there are problematic people everywhere. However, if a solution presents itself, such as a free temporary toilet which would solve one issue, yet the District declines it, it makes me wonder.

In the past, sleeping in your vehicle would not have been considered a crime. Yet, as the social-economic gap increases, so does the broadening definition of what is, and what is not, a crime.

Access to public spaces should not be threatened due to a select few, and that few includes, the people leaving garbage, and the complainers who see the presence of a van or RV as a threat to their security and status. Rather than punish the whole, why not work to educate those few ‘problematic’ people on leave no trace standards and show them a little love rather than push? For those who see us as tax-evading criminals, how about an open mind? Everyone has a story, and it’s often worth taking the time to hear it. This bylaw is wrong, socially and politically. This complicated problem requires much more effort than a blanket ban which will punish everyone.

Thomasina Pidgeon

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