Motion to ban camping in Beacon Hill Park for 2 years passes committee vote

Tents are pictured at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria: March 2, 2021 (CTV News)

A proposal to ban overnight camping in Beacon Hill Park until 2023 cleared its first procedural hurdle Thursday.

Victoria City Council voted in favour of the motion brought forward by Mayor Lisa Helps and councillors Marianne Alto and Charlayne Thornton-Joe at its committee of the whole meeting.

The proposal will now advance to a full council vote on June 17.

The motion calls for a temporary, two-year ban on camping to allow for "remediation" of the park, which has been home to people experiencing homelessness throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early on in the pandemic, councillors voted to allow 24-hour camping in parks, with the goal of making it easier for those without homes to "shelter in place" and reduce their risk of contracting or transmitting the coronavirus.

The decision proved controversial, with thousands of Victoria residents signing a petition calling on the council to end the policy, and local police describing encampments in Beacon Hill Park and elsewhere as magnets for crime in the city.

Twenty-four-hour camping remained permitted until May 1 of this year, and some tents have remained up past that date under an exception for residents who are awaiting indoor shelter from BC Housing.

Overnight camping is still allowed in Beacon Hill Park, but tents must not be erected before 7 p.m. and must be taken down by 7 a.m. the following morning.

The proposal to ban even overnight camping in the park calls for a review of the policy after two years to determine whether it should be extended.