Internal emails show that City of Prince George staff worked side-by-side with BC Housing staff to identify what to remove when the city cleared out shelters and belongings from the Lower Patricia encampment known as Moccasin Flats on Nov. 17, 2021, despite a court order to leave the camp in place.
The emails were obtained by The Citizen from BC Housing and the City of Prince George through a Freedom of Information request.
City of Prince George bylaw, parks and solid waste staff used heavy equipment to remove tents, structures and other belongings left by people relocated from the camp to BC Housing shelters, despite the Oct. 25, 2021, court order to leave the location intact until suitable housing and daytime facilities were in place. A BC Supreme Court ruling on Feb. 23, 2022, found that the city had violated the Oct. 25 order and the City of Prince George issued a formal apology for the action in March.
On Nov. 19, 2021, two days after the demolition happened, Sarah Brown, city supervisor of strategic initiatives and partnerships, wrote an email to city outreach coordinator Peter Zsombor, saying that city manager Walter Babicz wanted all staff who took part in the operation on Nov. 17 to write a report about what they did.
“He’s asked that any staff that were involved record their observations from their involvement/perspective,” Brown wrote.
‘THEY WERE ASKED IF THERE WAS ANYTHING LEFT THEY WANTED’
In his response, Zsombor said he met with two BC Housing representatives, identified as Roger Truvall and Chris H., and they went to the encampment to ask who wanted to move to the Knights Inn.
“Those who expressed interest were provided with green totes to pack their belongs. Two Outreach vans from AWAC containing two workers each arrived and began transporting the (residents) with their effects to the Knights Inn,” he wrote. “Upon departing they were asked if there was anything left they wanted for in their new room and if they indicated ‘no’ the structure was marked on the site map BC Housing had made. When Bylaw officers arrived they marked the tent/structures that were abandoned with green ‘bylaw services’ tape. This processed was the same process from the night before and some structures were already marked for removal.”
Couples at three of the camps were given an extension until Nov. 19 to remove their items, he added, and by the end of day only two people remained who didn’t want to leave.
One person who was scavenging from the abandoned tents was asked to leave by bylaw staff, Zsombor wrote.
“One particular tent that was marked the night before had an (name redacted) collecting items and attempting to light a fire. Although (name redacted) claimed to be part of the encampment there was no record from the past (month) to support (redacted’s) claim and (redacted) was not present on any of the days BC Housing performed the medical assessments or census for the Knights Inn placements,” Zsombor wrote. “(Redacted) was asked to leave due to the machinery that had arrived with Parks staff to begin removal of the abandoned structures and (redacted’s) safety. (Redacted) returned several times to search through the piles made by the equipment, appearing to be scavenging whatever (redacted) could find and was directed each time by the bylaw officers to leave for safety.”
'ROGER FROM BC HOUSING WAS... IDENTIFYING CAMPS THAT WERE MARKED FOR REMOVAL'
On Nov. 22, city bylaw services manager Charlotte Peters reached out to her front-line staff with a similar request for a detailed account of their actions.
In his response, bylaw services supervisor Kevin Podbisky said that he arrived on scene at 1:45 p.m. with Peters to check on their bylaw officers and meet with BC Housing.
“Roger from BC Housing was also present and identifying camps that were marked for removal,” Podbisky wrote “I assisted (bylaw officers Les Figura and Fred Greene) with the tarping of some Camps identified by Roger.”
Podbisky left the scene at 2:15 p.m. with Peters.
In his response to Peters, Figura said that he “assisted in flagging and or collapsing tents that were no longer being occupied.”
“There were one or two structures that I had a look inside of to make sure there were no occupants still on scene,” Figura wrote. “At this time it was also noted that nothing of any significant value looked to have been left behind.”
In June, The Fire Pit held an event for people who had lost belongings when the city cleared out the Lower Patricia encampment on Nov. 17, 2021, to help them file notices of claim to the City of Prince George for their lost belongings.