"Apparently the professional protesters are becoming worked up": City emails about decision to destroy court-protected homeless shelters raise more questions
And the risks of not keeping your driveway clear
Alright, today’s newsletter gets into it. Here’s the quick news first:
A new electric vehicle charging station is opening in Hixon. It was seeing the existence of a station in Hixon earlier this year that convinced me it would be viable to own an electric vehicle and more being added makes me feel more confident. Now I just want one at the Mackenzie Junction!
Police are investigating after one person was found dead following a fire at the North Star Inn downtown.
Our local highway clearing service tweeted a link to this post on why you shouldn’t put snow from your driveway out on the road and a local lawyer is warning icy driveways could lead to lawsuits.
Time to get Chrismas-y: The annual civic light up is happening this Sunday with a bunch of street events, the Festival of Trees starts Wednesday, and the PGSO is presenting Winter Dreams and the family-friendly Morris the Moose on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
Also: What is it like living on Candy Cane Lane? “Hacker said it used to take them eight to nine hours on a Saturday and Sunday to get everything done, but they’ve now got it down to seven hours on a Saturday.”
So who decided to tear down court-protected homeless shelters? Even Freedom of Information requests don’t have the answer
Last week, the Prince George Citizen announced a three-part series examining the emails sent between employees of the City of Prince George and B.C. Housing in the time leading up to and immediately following the destruction of shelters in a court-protected homeless camp. Before we get into that, here’s the quick refresher once again on what happened:
Last summer, homeless camps were built in the city as people sought permanent places to set up rather than have to move every day;
The city filed a court injunction for permission to shut these down;
The judge said ‘no,’ because the city couldn’t provide evidence there were enough shelter or housing units available for the people in the camps to live, so the camp would be allowed to stand until the city could change the court’s mind;
The city went ahead and destroyed part of the camp anyways, claiming that they were only destroying shelters that had been abandoned;
People who had been living in those shelters said otherwise and signed court affadavits testifying that they had, in fact, been living in some of those shelters and had had their belongings destroyed;
Another judge told the city it had clearly violated the previous judge’s orders;
The city apologized.
(Worth noting: A year later, people who lost their belongings say they are still trying to get compensated).
So to be very clear: The city was told by the courts it was in the wrong, and apologized. Bear that in mind as you read through the Citizens’s articles (part one, part two, part three) about how they handled it when it was just homeless advocates and journalists asking them why they were destroying a court-protected camp, and not an actual judge.
“Apparently the professional protesters are becoming worked up today about all the equipment and BC Housing is wondering if we should back off because the optics are bad,” city communications manager Julie Rogers wrote in an email to city bylaw services manager Charlotte Peters on the morning of Nov. 18, 2021. “We are nearly done though aren’t we? I hope to get the news release out very shortly and will send it to you when it’s ready. We are trying to change the conversation to address safety.”
Julie Rogers has come up in this newsletter before. She’s the communications manager who has won fans for her fun social media posts saying things like “Snow: It’s not our fault.”
But while that tone can be fun, some residents have pointed out it is somewhat dismissive, especially when people are asking questions about things like reconciliation and making city business accessible to seniors, as in these exchanges, as documented in the post “But what if we don’t want a sassy-fun social media account?”
If you already have a bit of a sour taste in your mouth about the city’s comms department coming off a bit dismissive, seeing the person in charge of it refer to folks who are wondering why the city is destroying parts of a court-protected homeless camp as “professional protesters” isn’t likely to improve your view on things.
But Rogers wasn’t the one making the decisions.
In fact, it’s not entirely clear who was making the decisions.
Thanks for reading northern capital news! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Throughout this whole debacle, it’s been striking to me how incredibly silent mayor and council have been. No one really seems to have answered questions about how the decision to destroy the shelters came to be — aside from vague gestures toward legal counsel saying it would be OK, B.C. Housing saying they’d identified abandoned shelters (ones that turned out to not be abanadoned, as it turned out) and the desire to prevent fires from breaking out.
On that last point, again bear in mind that the judge in the first case had already rules fire hazards were not a good enough reason to shut down the camp, because fire hazards would exist so long as homelessness did, so it’s just as likely that this was a talking point the city came up with to “change the conversation,” as above. B.C. Housing has repeatedly denied being the ones to decide it was time to take the shelters down so who actually made this call?
Here’s Neil Godbout writing in the Citizen:
The fact that the Citizen had to ask for the email trail just to find out who knew what and when and who set the direction and gave the order for the attempted demolition against an existing court order speaks volumes about the continuing lack of transparency at city hall…
Considering the political and legal risk to the city, the surprising lack of hands-on involvement from a city manager with a legal background, as well as mayor and council, is appalling. Perhaps they were more active behind the scenes, but the email trail indicates they largely left this work in the hands of other city employees and only jumped in once everything went sideways.
With how badly this all went down, perhaps new mayor Simon Yu and the new council might want to start their term in office by cleaning up their own house first.
I tend to agree. These have been, and continue to be, my questions about the decision-making behind this:
Given that the city had a court order telling it the camp should be allowed to stand, who initiated the action behind this? As in: Who was it who decided “time to tear down these shelters”? Council? A bylaw officer? The city’s lawyer? There’s still no clarity on how this even came about.
Once the process was initiated, did mayor or council get looped in on it at all? The result of this was a public relations problem AND a court loss AND opened the city up to more financial liability — so was anyone elected ever even told it was happening?
Given that city staff seemed pretty darn convinced the court order allowed them to tear down shelters despite a clear court order saying otherwise, who was giving them legal advice? And has the city retained the counsel that led to the taking such a big court loss?
If all of this went on without the knowledge or input of mayor and council, by the way, it would not be the first time city staffers working on their own got elected officials in trouble: Famously, the cost overruns at that downtown parkade happened in part because the city manager had been given the latitude to make major financial decisions without informing or consulting with mayor and council. That resulted in the city coming up with new policies to increase transparency around budgeting decisions. I’d argue this is as worthy of scrutiny. In an interview on CBC, new mayor Simon Yu indicated he’s interested in looking into this. We’ll see what he finds out — and if the rest of us get to be privy to that information.