Squatters who occupied a Nanaimo elementary school on Friday have been removed from the building and arrested.
Nanaimo RCMP pegs the number of arrests at between 18 and 21, while squatters say 23 people were taken into custody.
RCMP officers, including members of the tactical response team, used a fire truck’s boom ladder to access the roof of Rutherford Elementary School, where the squatters had gathered after police entered the building around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.
The squatters are facing charges of mischief and break and enter, according to Const. Gary O’Brien, who added that individuals with a prior criminal record may face additional charges.
Steve Rae, board chair of School District 68, which owns the vacant property, said it was the school board’s call for police to move in.
“We are extremely empathetic to the plight of the homeless people in Nanaimo and across the province. This is an issue in our province that needs to be resolved, but this isn’t the way to go about it,” Rae said.
Rae said the district will be on the hook for the cleanup from the occupation of the school — money he said that will come out of kids’ education.
Raw video: Police arrest squatters at Nanaimo school
“None of the people that are inside that building today are homeless people in Nanaimo. They’re all activists that have come over from the mainland, and this is what they do,” he said.
“People should know that, and they need to be clear.”
The squatters, some of them from the controversial Nanaimo Discontent City homeless camp, occupied the building on Friday afternoon, declaring it the “Schoolhouse Squat.”
WATCH: Judge grants injunction against Nanaimo tent city
The arrested squatters posted a video to the Alliance Against Displacement Twitter account from the back of a police van, in which someone off camera blamed the incident on the provincial government.
“It was definitely the NDP’s call to violently eject a group of peaceful people who were claiming a completely unused government building as a site of shelter,” they said.
“Thousand and thousands of dollars to make sure people will go back onto the street where they will die.”
Vancouver-based activist Ivan Drury said the activists had come from several different homeless camps.
“The fight against homelessness and against poverty isn’t just one town; it’s a historical and social problem, thousands of people are on the streets,” he said.
Tempers flare as homeless squatters occupy Nanaimo school
Last month, the BC Supreme Court granted an injunction against Discontent City, giving an estimated 250-300 campers until Oct. 12 to vacate the site on the Nanaimo waterfront.
Squatters have argued that the eviction order amounts to a “death sentence” for homeless campers, and that the 170 announced units are not nearly enough.
On Friday, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing announced 170 units of temporary housing to be built in Nanaimo by the end of the month. At least 90 of the units will be camp-style construction trailers with dorm-style accommodation.
The squatters argue that the form of housing being offered amounts to prison-like conditions.
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay expressed frustration on Saturday about the squat, amid what he said was a historic investment in Nanaimo housing from the provincial government.
“They’ve made it quite clear that this type of housing that is being offered is absolutely not what they want,” said McKay.
“I don’t know what we’re supposed to do as a society when you try to help and you believe you know what the need is to have people tell you they want nothing to do with that.”
The occupation of the school developed into a tense situation at one point on Friday night, when a group of more than 100 area residents formed outside of the building to protest the squat.
Members of the Soldiers of Odin, a group alleged to have links to the far-right, also participated in the protest.
Members with the Nanaimo RCMP stayed on scene to keep the two groups apart.