The Yukon government is preparing to pull out the pegs of a future tent city as its MLAs move to pass a law to allow for the swift eviction of campers from public land.
“It’s being done as a result of what occurred last summer with the tent city at the legislative grounds, as well as the Occupy movement that happened in other places,” said cabinet spokesperson Elaine Schiman.
“It became apparent we needed a tool to use in terms of how public property is occupied and used,” she said Tuesday.
NDP Leader Liz Hanson condemned the move.
“We still have all these people coming to town, looking for work and having no place to live. The root cause is the same, and they’ve just put a great, big, self-protecting band-aid over top of it,” said Hanson.
“There’s no plan here. It’s all knee-jerk. It’s like, ‘We don’t want to look out the window and be reminded of our failure.’”
Government MLAs are preparing to amend the Financial Administration Act to give themselves greater power over “the management, maintenance, proper use and protection of public property.”
The change would “confirm” the ability of officials to create new rules – and to dole out fines to scofflaws.
It would also allow officials to confiscate personal property, abandoned by owners on public property, until fines are paid up.
These amendments come at a time when there’s talk of protesters pitching another tent city on the legislature lawn to draw attention to Whitehorse’s housing shortage.
Hanson asked what the motive was for these changes during question period on Tuesday. House leader Brad Cathers said she’d have to wait until the amendment is debated in committee of the whole.
But Schiman later elaborated.
“The goal will be to balance two equally important responsibilities,” Schiman said. “One of those responsibilities is to support people who want to exercise their democratic rights and freedoms. The other responsibility is to keep public facilities safe and accessible.
“What we’re intending to do is model what we do on federal legislation, which is already in place, and which has already been tested in the courts on the federal level and is more likely to withstand a Charter challenge. That way we’re confident we aren’t infringing on people’s rights. We certainly don’t want to do that.”
The government usually briefs opposition parties on bills it brings forward, but it hasn’t in this case, said Hanson. “It’s part of a worrying trend,” she said.
Not so, said Cathers. The government has always briefed opposition MLAs on “major pieces of legislation” but it hasn’t done so with small amendments, like the one before the house.
Last year’s tent city hit a peak of about 40 tents during the summer months. The government waited until November to evict campers. By then, the encampment had dwindled to several tents and two trailers.
The safety of campers in the extreme cold was cited by Health Minister Doug Graham as one reason for shutting the camp down. Sanitation was another concern.