Mayor Kennedy Stewart may seek premier's help in gaining jurisdiction over Oppenheimer Park

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      Mayor Kennedy Stewart hasn't been able to convince Vancouver park commissioners to give council control over a Downtown Eastside homeless camp.

      As a result, he's considering approaching Premier John Horgan for assistance.

      Stewart revealed this today on The Lynda Steele Show on CKNW Radio.

      Oppenheimer Park is home to about 40 campers, which is far fewer than were living there early last month.

      "The park board really doesn't have the mandate, as they expressed today, or the resources to, you know, return the park to normal operations," Stewart stated. 

      The Vancouver Charter gives the park board authority over parks and this can only be ceded with the approval of two-thirds vote of commissioners.

      According to Stewart, there have been 500 police calls in connection with the park, including allegations of intimidation and weapons, as well as an assault.

      Stewart talked to Steele about his ability to negotiate with provincial ministers if empowered to do this by council.

      He emphasized that his top concern is the safety of people in the park, including front-line responders.

      The park board unanimously passed Green commissioner Camil Dumont's in-camera motion repudiating an injunction.

      Park commissioners want a task force

      Today, park board chair Stuart Mackinnon said that commissioners will not be seeking a court injunction to evict people from Oppenheimer Park.

      Rather than giving council jurisdiction over the park, the board has requested a multijurisdictional task force on homelessness.

      “Everyone deserves a safe place to call home,” Mackinnon said in a news release. “We need to work together to build a community that ensures appropriate housing for all. Our approach must be comprehensive, compassionate, and holistic.

      "We need both a short-term and a long-term action plan that will render unsanctioned encampments such as Oppenheimer unnecessary.”

      In the interview on CKNW Radio, Stewart stressed that he wasn't asking for an injunction.

      "It's kind of a political tactic to answer the question you wished you were asked rather than the actual question you were asked," Stewart said. "What I asked the park board chair on Wednesday was: would they turn jurisdiction over to city council to deal with Oppenheimer Park? Address the problems there and restore the park to park board's control after that's done."

      The board released several in-camera decisions in connection with this issue.

      On September 5, the board passed Comm. Camil Dumont's motion that resulted in the request for a task force.

      It included a lengthy statement, which was also approved.

      "We need to be open to potential solutions that have previously been off-limits," it stated. "We need to engage meaningfully with people experiencing homelessness in a respectful and dignified dialogue to understand their experiences and their perspectives.

      "We need to be brave; we need to be creative; we need to be bold; and we need to recognize that all options are on the table."

      It went on to suggest considering "the creation of intentional encampments, the purchase of properties appropriate for transitional housing, and the acceleration of the housing initiatives already in progress, including temporary modular housing".

      It also noted that "removing people from Oppenheimer Park, which may force them onto the streets, back lanes, and into other parks, is not the solution".

      The mayor responded that he had asked Mackinnon to consider his request for city control on an urgent basis.

      "I have reiterated this request in writing to him," Stewart stated. "I again urge the Park Board to help us move forward by meeting before September 16 and voting on my request.”

      NPA commissioners want an injunction

      NPA commissioner John Coupar also issued a statement, saying he was "disappointed by the weak response from the Green-COPE alliance on Park Board to the ongoing situation in Oppenheimer Park".

      He voted for an injunction and against writing a letter asking for a task force.

      "Both myself and my fellow NPA park board commissioner, Tricia Barker, have advocated at the board table several times for an injunction to be issued so that all those who wish to access the park for leisure and recreation are safe and secure," Coupar said. “I am particularly concerned that the Green-COPE alliance on park board have opted for the weakest of all possible responses to the Oppenheimer Park situation by doing nothing more than writing a letter to the City of Vancouver to encourage them to implement a comprehensive housing strategy."