Surveillance video shows the shocking lengths a thief went to steal a holy statue from the Vancouver Buddhist Temple in the Downtown Eastside.
Last year, volunteers placed a brass Buddha behind the gate of Canada’s oldest Buddhist temple in hopes the religious symbol would deter people from littering or relieving themselves on the steps of the house of worship, which is located across from Oppenheimer Park.
But instead of acting as a deterrent, the statue became a target for theft.
Video shows someone using a makeshift fishing rod fashioned from a tent pole to hook the statue and pull it towards the temple security gate.
The next morning he returned with a two-by-four — and without a shirt — to finish the job, breaking the gate to nab the statue.
“Absolutely nowhere is sacred in Vancouver,” temple president Dave Ohori said.
“I hope the city and the parks board could help us here.”
The theft took place in May. Since then, temple volunteers says things have only gotten worse as the homeless encampment in Oppenheimer continues to grow.
Earlier this month, the temple’s garage was broken into one day after an event that brought volunteers together to prepare traditional Japanese desserts for a March fundraising event.
Among the $5,000 in missing items were 1,500 Manju pastries that were to be sold at an upcoming fundraiser, as well as tents from the Powell Street Festival.
Temple staff reviewed security footage and recognized many of the looters as individuals living in Oppenheimer Park, with whom they had previously interacted.
They say they were able to recover 80 per cent of the stolen items, including many of the Powell Street Festival tents, during a walk-through of the park the next morning.
The temple has been a place of peace and reflection for 115 years, but Ohori says it increasingly feels like a place under siege.
“If you go outside and take a look around, there is a problem,” Ohori said.
In a statement, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said it was “saddened” to hear about the thefts at the Buddhist temple, and that it is continuing to work with city staff to find long-term housing solutions.
“While we have opened hundreds of new supportive homes in Vancouver over the past two years, low vacancy rates for supportive housing buildings in Vancouver continue to be a challenge,” the ministry said.
“As appropriate units turn over, BC Housing continues to offer those spaces to people in Vancouver who are experiencing homelessness, including those camping at Oppenheimer Park.”
The ministry added while hundreds of shelter spaces are also available for overnight stays during the cold months, “We recognize that shelters are not long-term solutions and we know there is an immediate need for more supportive homes in Vancouver.”
The Vancouver Park Board has repeatedly said it is working to address the Oppenheimer tent city. The board voted back in December to find a solution based on Indigenous reconciliation that would find housing for the campers.
A third-party review was also ordered, but the board has yet to select that third party.
The board has refused to hand jurisdiction of the park over to the city. Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has said he is also working on securing modular and medium-income housing, but for all of Vancouver’s homeless.
The park was the scene of Vancouver’s first homicide of 2020, with police noting an increase in calls over assaults, fires and weapons.
— With files from Jordan Armstrong and Kristen Robinson