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First Nations leadership council condemns cruelty in Prince George encampment removal

Fencing was expanded to surround the encampment site to prevent people from returning. Millennium Park is next to the offices of the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George.  (Kate Partridge/CBC - image credit)
Fencing was expanded to surround the encampment site to prevent people from returning. Millennium Park is next to the offices of the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George. (Kate Partridge/CBC - image credit)

The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) calls the decision by Prince George city council to remove a downtown encampment "senseless and dehumanizing," saying upwards of 30 permanent residents have been displaced, with, according to B.C. Housing, only four people able to move into shelter.

"The FNLC condemns the City of Prince George for what it views as bad faith negotiations, short-sightedness, and explicit cruelty in its decision-making process," it said in a statement.

On Monday, the City of Prince George enforced the eviction of the remaining homeless residents of the Millennium Park encampment, who were given nine days to move, saying conditions had deteriorated and were unsafe for both residents and first responders. Three people were arrested for refusing to leave their homes at the encampment and later released after the demolition was nearly complete.

Heavy machinery razed the encampment in downtown Prince George, B.C. on Monday morning.
Heavy machinery razed the encampment in downtown Prince George, B.C. on Monday morning.

Heavy machinery razed the encampment in downtown Prince George, B.C. on Monday morning. (Kate Partridge/CBC News)

Signed by the political executives of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit, and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the statement says the city's "targeting of Indigenous people for violence is unacceptable," calling it a "manifestation of structural, systemic racism."

At the last available count in 2021, 82 per cent of those considered homeless in Prince George identified as Indigenous.

It's not the first time the City of Prince George has faced condemnation by First Nations elected leadership.

B.C. Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Terry Teegee spoke out against the city's Safer Streets bylaw, passed in September 2021, which cracked down on a wide range of "nuisance" behaviours, including sleeping in public spaces and panhandling.

And then, in October of the same year, Teegee spoke in support of the B.C. Supreme Court decision to let another encampment stay.

Terry Teegee, regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, is pictured in Vancouver on Friday, November 29, 2019. Teegee says it's disappointing to B.C. First Nations leaders that federal party leaders Justin Trudeau, Erin O'Toole and Jagmeet Singh are not participating in the assembly's annual general meeting just days before Canadians go to the polls.

Terry Teegee, the regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, has spoken out against the City of Prince George in recent years for its encampment and homelessness management strategies. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher E. Hinkson granted the encampment, known as Moccasin Flats, court-protected status. In his ruling, Hinkson said the City of Prince George failed to prove there were enough suitable alternatives for residents of the encampment.

MOU breached, First Nations say

The letter from the First Nations Leadership Council calls into question the City of Prince George's commitment to new initiatives aimed at addressing encampments across the province, including a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in June of this year.

The FNLC says the removal of the Millennium Park encampment is in "direct contravention of this agreement."

According to the B.C. Housing website, Prince George was the first community to sign an MOU with the provincial Ministry of Housing. The document explains a two-pronged approach — the Homeless Encampment Actions Response Teams (HEART) and Homeless Encampment Actions Response Temporary Housing (HEARTH).

Dozens of RCMP and bylaw officers were on hand for the demolition of the Millennium Park encampment in Prince George, B.C., on Sept. 11, 2023. The First Nations Leadership Council condemned the move, stating more than 70 per cent of unhoused people in the city are Indigenous.
Dozens of RCMP and bylaw officers were on hand for the demolition of the Millennium Park encampment in Prince George, B.C., on Sept. 11, 2023. The First Nations Leadership Council condemned the move, stating more than 70 per cent of unhoused people in the city are Indigenous.

Dozens of RCMP and bylaw officers were on hand for the demolition of the Millennium Park encampment in Prince George, B.C., on Sept. 11, 2023. The First Nations Leadership Council condemned the move, stating more than 70 per cent of unhoused people in the city are Indigenous. (Kate Partridge/CBC News)

Both initiatives underscore collaboration under the leadership of B.C. Housing, "to quickly assess the needs of people sheltering in encampments and to provide rapid access to supports." HEARTH is a "new fund administered via B.C. Housing, to provide for emergency housing, shelter options, and immediate co-ordinated supports."

Last week, Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said he was "disappointed" by the city's decision to unilaterally demolish the encampment "without adequate indoor shelter options."

CBC News contacted the City of Prince George for comment in response to the FNLC's condemnation, but it did not respond.

In an earlier written statement following the demolition of the encampment, Mayor Simon Yu advised displaced residents to "contact B.C. Housing outreach staff."

"City staff did a very good job [Monday] clearing the remaining material from the Park."