Stolen property was found at this squatters’ camp near Northwestern Regional Airport in Terrace earlier this month. (Photo courtesy Terrace RCMP)

Stolen property was found at this squatters’ camp near Northwestern Regional Airport in Terrace earlier this month. (Photo courtesy Terrace RCMP)

City of Terrace clears out squatters’ camp near airport

City doubtful if clean up costs can be recouped

City of Terrace workers cleaned up what’s left of a squatters’ camp near the Northwest Regional Airport this week and it’s doubtful if any of the costs incurred can be recouped.

City bylaw officers in the company of RCMP and conservation service officers first converged on the camp on city land Mar. 1 after an increasing amount of concern about suspected criminal activity and accumulated material and litter at the location.

The initial purpose was to issue a municipal trespass notice giving occupants 72 hours to move on, said city bylaw officer Dwayne Sheppard.

But when that period expired Mar. 4, city workers returned and the clean up began.

“Most of the items moved [March 4] were refuse, one tandem truckload. Several propane bottles and tires were impounded; we also impounded one vehicle from the area,” Sheppard said.

“In terms of recouping cost, other than taking the occupants to court, it would be difficult.”

The tow bill for the vehicle moved is $98 and there is a monthly charge of $100 for a vehicle that has been impounded.

“We cannot add a fine to these fees, as we must utilize different processes such as the courts to collect on fines,” Sheppard said.

City workers were back at the site this week taking care of any final items.

Conservation officers issued their own fine of $230 for leaving items such as garbage that could attract dangerous wildlife.

“Not paying a provincial violation ticket within 30 days means the ticket holder is considered to have pleaded guilty, and the full amount is due immediately,” information from the conservation officer service added.

And after 12 months, if still unpaid, the fine will go to a collection agency.

During the course of the first visit, RCMP officers spotted what they suspected was stolen property, arrested the only person at the camp at the time and, after obtaining a search warrant, found and seized what officers described as “prohibited weapons, a firearm, over 400 grams of suspected illicit opioids, and various items suspected to be stolen including motorcycles, a chainsaw, and propane tanks.”

The arrested person was subsequently released, but that does not mean there won’t be further police involvement, said Terrace RCMP detachment media relations Const. Kelly Cates.

“There was not enough evidence to hold him or to forward charges at that time but there will be an ongoing investigation and once more evidence is gathered, that same suspect (or other suspects) may be arrested and charged for the appropriate offences,” she said.

In B.C. police officers do not lay charges but forward information to provincial prosecutors who make the decision on whether charges will be laid and what those charges might be.

This would not be the first time a problem squatters’ camp has existed in the area.

In Aug. 2021 the Kitsumkalum First Nation issued an eviction notice to a makeshift camp on Kitsumkalum reserve land along the West Kalum Forest Service Road after describing it as containing drug dealers and individuals targeting young women.

The camp had been the subject of numerous complaints and had been on the First Nation’s and RCMP’s radar since the year before.

The eviction notice was issued Aug. 19 but before any further action could be taken, a fire destroyed the camp the next day.

“Police advised that they would be available to attend the area and keep the peace when the band was ready to move forward with the eviction. However, the site caught fire before any eviction took place,” said Cates at the time.

A tent camp containing unhoused people also existed for a time in 2019 in a field across Hwy 16 from Walmart and there was a second tent camp set up also in 2019 behind the Birchwood Apartments on Little Ave. Both were on private property and the property owners subsequently cleared both away.

RCMP officers reported seeing stolen property at the camp beside Hwy 16 and altercations between occupants of the second camp.

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