Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society heading to court to remove campers

A group that wants sheltering banned in Beacon Hill Park is pushing ahead with legal action to remove campers.

A lawyer for the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society has filed an application to add the society as a party to court proceedings initiated by the city in July regarding use of the park.

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The court granted the city a temporary injunction that prohibits sheltering in sensitive areas of the park.

John Alexander, one of the lawyers representing the society, said the group wants to be added as a party to the proceedings so they can push for a hearing on a final injunction that would prohibit 24/7 camping in the park.

There is no requirement for the city to continue to a final injunction, and it’s unlikely they would, Alexander said.

The group attempted to join the proceedings before the court ruled on the temporary injunction in July, but the city blocked them from joining, he said.

If the society is successful in their application to be added as a party, Alexander said they’ll move as quickly as possible to schedule a hearing in the fall.

As a party in the proceedings, they would be able to introduce the Beacon Hill Park Trust to the court, which they say the city is violating by allowing sheltering.

The society says the trust sets Beacon Hill apart from other parks by requiring the city to preserve it “for the use, recreation and enjoyment of the public.”

They point to two previous court decisions from 1884 and 1998 that they say support their position that sheltering in the park violates the terms of the trust.

Roy Fletcher, president of Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society, said they regret taking legal action, and they hope the city will not block their participation in the injunction proceedings.

If the city does try to prevent them from joining, Fletcher said they’re prepared to sue the city.

He said they decided to take action, because “things are only going to get worse.”

For months, some nearby residents and park users have said they feel unsafe in the park, where people have been sheltering during the pandemic. Park users have reported finding needles and being threatened by people camping. People sheltering in the park have also reported being threatened.

Victoria police are investigating an early morning stabbing in Beacon Hill Tuesday that a left a camper with non-life-threatening injuries. The man was taken to hospital.

A petition calling for the removal of campers has more than 27,000 signatures. A counter petition started by a group of parents who say they continue to enjoy taking their children to the park and call for compassionate treatment of those sheltering there has more than 3,500 signatures.

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society has raised $19,000 for legal action through a GoFundMe page. That will be enough if they’re able to join the proceedings, but won’t cover the costs of suing the city, Fletcher said.

Alexander, the society’s lawyer, estimated the the litigation could cost anywhere from $8,000 to $50,000 for both the society and the city if they attempt to block the group’s participation.

The society’s application will be heard in the week of Oct. 5 at the earliest, he said.

City spokesman Bill Eisenhauer said they received the society’s application Wednesday, and it is being reviewed by the city solicitor.

“We will be responding in accordance with the court process,” he said.

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