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Little change to Vancouver downtown street encampment as residents wonder where to go

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VANCOUVER — It was difficult to see any difference had been made to the tent encampment in Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside on Wednesday, a day after city staff began what’s expected to be a weeks-long process to remove the structures.

That’s for good reason, said a resident who goes by the name Edith Elizabeth — the people who live in the tents have nowhere else to go.

She said previously, residents would relocate their structures nearby so city staff could clean the street.

“It’s just like, ‘Okay, cool, take down our structures and move down the block so they can wash it,’ and that’s it,” said Elizabeth. “But here, now, it’s just like we have to disappear or something.”

Vancouver fire Chief Karen Fry ordered tents along the stretch of Hastings Street dismantled last month, saying there was an extreme fire and safety risk.

The city has said staff would concentrate their efforts on the “highest risk” areas, but several structures in those areas remained in place on Wednesday.

The neighbourhood struggles with many complex challenges including drug use, crime, homelessness, housing issues, and unemployment.

It was tense on Tuesday, Elizabeth said, with a heavy police presence on the street.

The Vancouver Police Department released a statement Tuesday saying multiple people were arrested after officers were assaulted during a “melee.”

It said staff at a community centre had called police to report a man throwing computers and behaving erratically. The man resisted arrest, police said, as “a large crowd gathered, and became hostile and combative with the officers.”

Elizabeth said police used pepper spray and the incident left people feeling scared.

An update from the city on Wednesday said a big contingent of police at the Main and Hastings intersection in the afternoon “was not as a result of the City’s effort to remove structures”, and instead stemmed from the incident outside the community centre.

The city said staff aimed to approach encampment residents “with respect and sensitivity, encouraging and supporting voluntary removal of tents and belongings through conversation.”

“We recognize that some people believe the city should not do this work, but there are significant safety risks for everyone in the neighbourhood that the city cannot ignore,” it said.

Elizabeth stood near her belongings on the sidewalk where she said she’s been staying for about three weeks after moving from another spot nearby.

“It’s not like this is a forever, permanent place,” she said, although she’s not sure where she might go next.

“As far as options down here, generally there’s been Crab Park, which is like tent city,” she said, referring to tents set up around the park near Vancouver’s waterfront.

Elizabeth said she, like many others living in tents along the street, doesn’t feel comfortable or safe in single-room occupancy buildings with “awful” conditions.

The city said staff have been meeting each week with a community-based working group since May, and more frequently with members of the Overdose Prevention Society and Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users over the past two weeks.

Staff spent Wednesday telling residents about storage options for their belongings, the city said.

These included up to two 360-litre storage totes, which staff would seal with tamper-proof labels before placing them in short-term storage. The city said the totes are on wheels, so owners can take them away if they did not want them stored.

A long-term storage container is also being provided nearby, the city said.

Community advocacy groups, including the drug-user network and Pivot Legal Society, have said clearing the encampment violates a memorandum of understanding between the city, the B.C. government and Vancouver’s park board, because people are being told to move without being offered suitable housing.

The stated aim of the agreement struck last March is to connect unsheltered people to housing and preserve their dignity when dismantling encampments.

The City of Vancouver may enforce bylaws that prohibit structures on sidewalks “when suitable spaces are available for people to move indoors,” it reads.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022.

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Disaster

Newfoundland fishers face livelihood questions after Fiona storm damage

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By Holly McKenzie-Sutter in Rose Blanche-Harbour Le Cou

Colourful fishing stages bobbed in the water by Rose Blanche-Harbour Le Cou Tuesday as Cliff Bateman watched from his property.

Days earlier, the picturesque buildings that are used to land and process fish were upright before post-tropical storm Fiona swept them into the ocean by the southwestern Newfoundland town.

Bateman watched the storm toss them through the water.

“It’s a big loss, I tell you that,” he said from inside his kitchen. The now-retired fisherman said he stored a priceless accumulation of gear and history inside the structures that were passed down through his family, some built over 100 years ago.

“You work all your life for it, and in an hour, everything gone.”

Fiona’s path of destruction through Atlantic Canada heavily damaged the fishing industry and communities along Newfoundland’s southwestern coast have not been spared. Fishers and property owners are awaiting word about possible government assistance and are left wondering whether it will be enough to fill the gaps.

In Burnt Islands, about a 20-minute drive west from Rose Blanche, Troy Hardy stepped off his boat Tuesday to look over the scene. Fishing stages by the community harbour were badly damaged, destroying people’s workstations and spilling their equipment into the sea.

Some people, like Hardy, had less severe losses, but of the roughly nine fishers in the community, he said “it’s safe to say every one of them was affected in some way.”

“Everybody’s livelihood is greatly impacted by what happened, to the point where you’re just trying to look around and see how you’re going to make it work for the upcoming season,” Hardy said.

On top of personal gear, a building shared between fishers for their work and storage of their catches was badly damaged, Hardy said. He expects people will be scrambling to salvage and source equipment before next spring’s seasons.

“It’s a big impact for the fish harvesters, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s very worrisome.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.

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Alberta

Alberta plans to resist federal efforts to seize prohibited weapons: Shandro

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CALGARY — The Alberta government is taking steps to oppose federal firearms prohibition legislation and the potential seizure of thousands of assault-style weapons.

Since May 2020, Ottawa has prohibited more than 1,500 different models of assault-style firearms from being used or sold in Canada.

It has committed to establishing a buyback program to remove those firearms from communities.

Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said he received a letter from the federal minister of public safety asking for police resources to begin confiscating firearms beginning this fall.

He said the federal government is “fearmongering” by labelling the guns as “assault style,” which Shandro called a move to scare Canadians unfamiliar with firearms.

Shandro said at a news conference Monday that many of the weapons do not pose unusual danger or possess any additional mechanical capability.

“This is politically motivated confiscation, pure and simple,” he said. “And so I responded to (Public Safety) Minister (Marco) Mendicino by telling him no. Alberta will not assist the federal government in this or any federal effort to strip lawfully obtained personal property from our residents.”

Shandro said Alberta will not agree to having RCMP officers act as “confiscation agents” and will protest any such move under the provincial-federal agreement that governs policing.

“Despite taking this step, the federal government may still direct the RCMP to serve as confiscation agents,” Shandro said. “To prevent this from happening, Alberta will formally dispute any attempt to do so by invoking Article 23 of that agreement.”

Alberta also plans to seek intervener status in six ongoing judicial review applications challenging the constitutionality of the legislation.

Mendicino’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shandro’s position is supported by Alberta’s chief firearms officer.

“I have previously expressed strong opposition to the federal government’s plans to prohibit and confiscate some 30,000 lawfully acquired firearms from Albertans,” said Teri Bryant.

“The planned confiscations represent a fatal approach to reducing violence in Canadian society and are unwarranted and unacceptable infringements on the property rights and personal freedoms of Albertans.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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