Tent city protesters could face big fines

The Yukon government has revealed details about its plans to ban camping on the lawn of the legislature.

The Yukon government has revealed details about its plans to ban camping on the lawn of the legislature.

Camping on public land that hasn’t been designated as a park would be forbidden under draft regulations tabled in the legislature this week.

Loitering and being a nuisance are similarly prohibited.

Scofflaws could face fines of up to $1,000 or imprisonment of up to six months.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson calls the new rules a “sweeping power grab.”

Premier Darrell Pasloski disagrees, saying the regulations strike “a balance between safeguarding people’s ability to demonstrate their democratic rights and freedoms while also keeping public facilities safe and accessible.”

Public Works Minister Wade Istchenko framed the issue in more colourful terms.

“It’s about peaceful protest,” he said. “It’s not about public and underage drinking, needle and drug use, lack of proper sanitation, public nudity, theft, violence and fighting. We just need to have control of our facilities.”

Ottawa and the provinces have similar laws already on the books, said Pasloski. And the Yukon’s new regulations are based on federal ones, which have withstood a Charter challenge in the courts.

Government members noted they didn’t need to share the draft rules with opposition members cabinet is able to pass new regulations on its own. Their decision to do so anyway demonstrated their commitment to “open, transparent government,” said Istchenko.

The regulations won’t forbid peaceful protest, said Istchenko. But last year’s tent city, which sprang up in the summer to protest Whitehorse’s housing shortage, became far more than that, he said.

“There were many, many people who would not go to our local park outside of this facility. There were scared. Government employees in this building were concerned about going to work. Our bathrooms downstairs were a shower facility and a dishwashing facility.

“The security personnel were breaking up fights – knife fights. There were drug deals on the premises. Sanitation and health became an issue. People were urinating and – I do not even want to use that word – in the parking lot and, as a note, on the tailgate of my truck.

“Cost to the Yukon government, just for this alone, was approximately $75,000 due to the increase in security, maintenance and custodial services. I might add that we do owe a great, great thank you to all of our employees – the security people, the property management people – who worked through this very difficult time.”

And not all participants at the tent city were homeless. The operator of the Robert Service campground complained about a slump in business as visitors decided to pitch a free camp on the legislature lawn, said Istchenko.

“They cannot compete with free camping at a Yukon government public property,” he said.

Hanson faulted the government for not doing enough to address the housing shortage as it grew in recent years. She called on the territory to take the regulations out for public consultation before passing them.

“We have a responsibility to society to respond in a more caring and compassionate way than simply to say, ‘Not wanted in my backyard.’ This is the public’s backyard.”

Liberal Sandy Silver supported the tighter rules.

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