On Monday night, Prince George city council approved a motion directing city staff to begin the process to “stop overnight camping at Millennium Park and commence remediation of that site.”
The city park, located at the corner of First Avenue and George Street, has been the site of an encampment since 2022. City director of public safety Adam Davey said staff will return to city council with more details about the plan to remove the encampment and remediate the site at a future meeting.
“This is just the start of a process,” Davey said. "The planning process for this is not quick. It's not happening tomorrow."
City council approved final reading of an amendment to the city’s Parks and Open Space Bylaw, designating the Lower Patricia encampment – named Moccasin Flats by residents – as the only public space in the city where overnight camping is allowed. In October 2021, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the city must allow the Lower Patricia encampment to remain open until suitable housing for all residents was available.
The city cannot prohibit camping in all city parks and public spaces, following a 2008 BC Supreme Court decision involving the City of Victoria, Davey wrote in a report which went to city council on Monday.
“Presently, the prohibition against camping cannot be reasonably enforced because there is nowhere for those who cannot access shelter space to lawfully shelter overnight which, again, is not constitutional,” Davey wrote. “Once one or more sites become designated as a lawful temporary overnight camping area, the City will be at liberty to consider enforcement steps in areas where camping remains prohibited.”
City staff are aware there are other encampments in the city, and expect to continue receiving complaints to bylaw services about encampments in other areas, he said. However, given the size of the task, and the limit on city resources, the city is starting with Millennium Park.
Coun. Brian Skakun said park is "absolutely destroyed."
"If there is a ground zero, that's it," Skakun said.
Coun. Trudy Klassen was the sole member of council to oppose the motion.
Klassen said the Lower Patricia encampment site doesn't have the services to accommodate an influx of people from other sites around the city.
"I can't support it today," she said.
A BC Supreme Court ruling from Maple Ridge makes it clear there is “no obligation upon municipalities to provide shelter, utilities or other supports to unhoused individuals," according to what Davey's wrote to council. It is up to the B.C. Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to provide those services.
"This isn't an easy decision," Coun. Ron Polillo said. "(But) it's time we made a decision and moved forward. Only time will tell if we made the right decision."
Coun. Tim Bennett said the relocation of people from Millennium Park should be done as humanely and collaboratively as possible.
"We need to have a more suitable place for people to go," Mayor Simon Yu said. "This is important, we need to get this one right."