Camping event in Montreal goes ahead as Parks Canada, homeless advocates strike deal

·3 min read

MONTREAL — A Montreal camping event that generated backlash from homeless advocates was set to go ahead on Saturday, after Parks Canada and its critics agreed to work together.

The urban camping event was set to take place along the Lachine Canal in the heart of Montreal, with protesters' tents pitched alongside those of paying customers.

The series of events, dubbed learn-to-camp, are described as an opportunity to learn basic camping skills for the price of over $100 per tent.

The events drew backlash from advocates who pointed out that homeless people who try to camp on public lands often see their tents dismantled by authorities.

"When we saw Parks Canada's event, we found it really ironic because if you pay, it's OK to camp, so it's really about your social class," said Annie Archambault, who works with a non-profit organization that helps Montreal's vulnerable populations.

Parks Canada cancelled a first event after strong criticism, but is expected to hold the rest of the series.

Archambault said the organization agreed to provide camping space, water and bathroom access to protesters, and will allow them to hold an event around the campfire Saturday evening to raise awareness about what the most vulnerable Montrealers are facing.

Speaking alongside her, Parks Canada spokesman Simon Saint-Germain said the federal agency wanted to work with community advocates to create dialogue and education around homelessness.

"We have people experiencing homelessness on Parks Canada lands, so we decided to seize the opportunity to share a space for dialogue, a space for learning also, of awareness of the realities of people experiencing homelessness," he said.

There were about half a dozen protesters' tents being set up on Saturday afternoon, with more expected later. About 15 tents, sheltering 60 people, were expected to take part in the official Parks Canada event.

Saint-Germain said the $108 camping fee includes not only camping but also activities such as fishing, kayaking, and yoga, as well as breakfast.

"It's not an offer of accommodation," he said.

The City of Montreal has dismantled several homeless encampments in recent years, including one on Notre-Dame street earlier this month.

Last week, the city also moved to hire a liaison officer who will work with those who are displaced when camps are taken down – a move that was criticized by community groups.

Archambault said community organizations have long been asking the city to set aside a safe place for people to camp, but have always been refused. What the city needs most is social housing, she said, but believes officials should show tolerance towards encampments in the meantime.

City of Montreal spokesman Gonzalo Nunez said in an email that the city has taken "unprecedented" action to help the city's homeless population.

In the meantime, "encampments are not a sustainable or safe solution to meet the challenges of homelessness" due to safety concerns such as the risk of fires, Nunez wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2022.

Clara Descurninges, The Canadian Press

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting