RCMP make arrests on the roof of Rutherford Elementary School. GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin

26 squatters at B.C. elementary school arrested

RCMP teams moved in on Nanaimo’s Rutherford school Saturday morning

RCMP moved in at a Nanaimo school and made arrests today, breaking up the Schoolhouse Squat.

Numerous RCMP officers including special tactical teams arrived just after 10 a.m. Saturday at Rutherford Elementary School where Alliance Against Displacement and residents and supporters of Discontent City homeless camp had been squatting since Friday.

School board chairman Steve Rae thanked RCMP for their quick action.

“We understand and acknowledge and respect that there’s a homeless problem in this province and we want to help where we can with homeless people. But this is something that is completely different,” Rae said. “This is a group of people who have broken onto our property that’s not been supportive of the real cause, which is homelessness.”

Though the school closed last June, the school board chairman said “it’s not for them (squatters) to break into a school building that is owned by the school district, to use for their causes. We will not stand for this.”

Rae said he hopes there will be consequences.

“We are going to have them removed from this property as we’re doing right now and we’re going to charge them with everything we can so this stops,” he said.

Nanaimo RCMP spokesman Const. Gary O’Brien said 26 people were arrested and taken into custody.

“Break-and-enter and mischief at this point,” he said. “There may be secondary charges based on whatever background they have.”

He said any resistance to the arrests was not enough to be concerning to police and wouldn’t result in additional charges.

“It went very well. It was quite smooth,” he said. “We’re quite impressed with the fact that within 24 hours of the initial complaint, we had 26 in custody and the situation dealt with.”

O’Brien said there were about 40-50 members at the scene Saturday. In addition to general duty officers, there were members of the Vancouver Island Tactical Response Team, Vancouver Island Emergency Response Team, Police Dog Services and forensic ident.

He said the school district was assessing damage to the school.

Amber McGrath, Discontent City supporter, was observing the arrests Saturday and said “it’s heartbreaking” to see.

“The people in that building are fighting for everybody in Nanaimo and across the province and the country to have affordable housing and I don’t think that’s an unfair thing to fight for,” she said.

She referenced the 170 units of supportive housing announced by B.C. Housing on Friday and suggested that’s not a satisfactory solution when it’s affordable housing that’s needed.

“It’s temporary shelters. It’s not a home. An 8-by-10 cell in a trailer without a kitchen isn’t a home; 24-hour wraparound services is a prison,” she said. “Then they say that, that means that you have to take those services whether you want them or not. It’s not attached to the individual, it’s attached to the housing.”

She was asked whether Discontent City would be trying to identify another building suitable for squatting and said she didn’t know what next steps might be.

“There’s empty buildings when people are freezing. People are being put out into the bush to die when we have empty government buildings sitting here that people could be in and be warm,” McGrath said.

There were arguments between Schoolhouse Squat opponents and supporters along Hammond Bay Road.

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