Vancouver park rangers confiscate coolers from legal camps during heat wave

Vancouver park rangers confiscate coolers from legal camps during heat wave
Vancouver park rangers confiscate coolers from legal camps during heat wave

Park rangers in Vancouver have confiscated coolers of food and drinks from a harborside encampment for homeless people as residents sweltered during a heat wave.

The incident occurred on July 9, as temperatures soared across British Columbia. Nearly 40 communities reported new daily temperature records, and Environment and Climate Change Canada issued heat warnings across the province. Temperatures in Vancouver were in the low 30s, but felt like high 30s with humidity.

Videos posted to social media on Tuesday show a group of park rangers breaking into a tent at CRAB Park, grabbing coolers and walking away while being questioned by someone off-camera.

“Would you guys leave the cooler during a heat wave?” an unidentified witness asks in the video, which is ignored by park rangers.

“Can you put the cooler in the donation tent so someone can pick it up later because of the heat wave? Can I take it and give it to someone because it’s a heat wave?” the person asks in a separate video.

Confiscating coolers from homeless people during a heatwave appears to contradict recommendations made by the Coroners Service to the British Columbia government following the 2021 heatwave that killed 691 people. Protecting vulnerable people, including the elderly and the homeless, was among the key recommendations, with experts suggesting governments provide at-risk groups with ways to cool off.

“Universal safety precautions and warnings are required for all British Columbia residents during extreme heat events, but vulnerable populations require additional interventions, support and assistance,” reads the report to British Columbia’s chief coroner, published in June 2022.

According to the Union Gospel Mission, which operates in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, several factors impose high health costs on people living nearby during heat waves. The Downtown Eastside has the lowest tree cover in the city, which causes temperatures to be higher than in the shade. Many residents of the area also have underlying health conditions, including mental health and substance abuse, making them more vulnerable to extreme heat.

CRAB Park, home to dozens of homeless people, is located on Vancouver’s harbor, near the Downtown Eastside and Gastown neighborhoods. An advocate for the camp with the group Stop the Sweeps said in a statement to Canada’s National Observer that since April the Vancouver Parks Board has “systematically intensified enforcement of the bylaws and guidelines governing the CRAB Park camp.”

Park rangers in Vancouver confiscated coolers of food and drinks from a harborside homeless encampment as residents sweltered during a heat wave, according to videos posted on social media.

The new regulations give park rangers the authority to remove tents that are not continuously occupied. Insulation, fencing, plywood and pallets are also prohibited.

In the past few months, “park rangers have begun to intensify their daily enforcement of the park ordinance, which was recently updated to include stricter rules about what a homeless shelter may look like, and where and when it may be set up, searched, opened, damaged, seized, or destroyed,” according to Stop the Sweeps. “Many possessions have been stolen by park rangers while enforcing these ordinances, with no reason given as to why these items were not allowed.”

According to advocates, seizures at the camp are an almost daily occurrence. Despite the humidity that made it feel like the temperature was in the high 30s, July 9 was such a day.

“Rangers approached a tent and opened the fly, exposing the occupant’s belongings underneath, including two coolers. The occupant was not home,” Stop the Sweeps said. “Rangers immediately began seizing the items, providing only a verbal explanation that the items were ‘outside the 10×10 area.’

“Numerous other personal belongings were also taken, including clothing, baskets, a bicycle and bags with unknown belongings.”

The Vancouver Park Board did not respond to a request for comment before publication.