Nanaimo tent city rally draws supporters, foes, but Soldiers of Odin a no-show

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WATCH: John Horgan says B.C. wasn't able to get cooperation from Nanaimo on modular housing – Aug 22, 2018

Hundreds of supporters and opponents of a Nanaimo homeless camp took to the city’s streets Sunday in a sometimes heated demonstration.

Supporters of the camp organized an emergency counter-rally after the Vancouver Island chapter of the Soldiers of Odin posted on social media that it planned to clear the camp.

“Due to continued inaction by authorities and reports of child sex trafficking in the camp, SOO will be returning to Nanaimo to facilitate the removal of DisconTent City this Sunday,” the group wrote.

The Canada Border Services Agency describes the SOO as a group of Caucasian men, generally between the ages of 20 and 40, some of whom adhere to a far-right ideology and are not afraid to use violence.

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The group shares its name with an anti-immigration group that originated in Finland. Members deny any links to neo-Nazi groups or biker gangs, instead portraying themselves as a community safety group.

Members of the Vancouver chapter have clashed with anti-racism protesters in the past and turned up outside of a Surrey mosque.

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Earlier this month, the Vancouver Island chapter visited the Nanaimo camp in an encounter with supporters that was at times tense but not violent.

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The SOO Facebook post was deleted prior to the rally. On Sunday, members failed to appear at the camp. The group’s entire Facebook page was not accessible as of Sunday evening.

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However, that didn’t stop a large group of camp supporters from turning out to oppose them.

“We consider them to be a threat to the safety of the people in the camp and part of a larger political menace in the fabric of Canadian society,” said housing activist Ivan Drury with the Alliance Against Displacement.

“We’re standing here to stop them from getting in in order to cause harm.”

While the SOO didn’t turn up, a number of community members who oppose the homeless camp did.

“They need affordable housing, they need everything, they need drug rehabilitation. This is not our responsibility to look after those needs,” said local resident Melanie Simpson.

“My husband works hard for his money. Stop taking it out of our pockets and actually worrying about it on your side. Make Nanaimo great again because it sucks so bad here that I don’t even want to live here any more.”

One supporter of the DisconTent City camp told Global News he believed there was never any threat of violence and that the conflict between camp supporters and the SOO was based on a misunderstanding.

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“They’ve heard some rumours of certain acts going on there and certain bad people that are living there,” said Jamison McGrath.

“They would like to help clean up and protect the people of tent city by removing some of the more violent people, which the police and stuff haven’t done in the past, so I believe they’re actually trying to help tent city rather than destroy tent city.”

READ MORE: Province shuts down Victoria tent city, housing offered to all campers

Asked about the now-deleted Facebook post, McGrath said: “Maybe someone doesn’t know how to type something how it should [be typed] to really get the message and understanding of what it is they were trying to do.”
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The DisconTent City camp has been in place since May 17, and organizers say between 200 and 250 people live in it at any given time.

Supporters say there are more than 300 homeless people in Nanaimo, and many more who are “precariously housed.”

But the camp has been controversial, with some residents calling for its removal, saying they feel it is a risk to their safety and property. Nanaimo city council passed a motion in May attempting to evict the tent city.

The city is currently seeking a court injunction allowing it to clear the camp and enforce fire bylaws.

The RCMP described the event as “generally peaceful,” but said that four people were arrested, several for outstanding police matters such as open warrants.

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