A rally to kick off the #StopTheSweeps International Week of Actions drew crowds to downtown Victoria, where activists demanded immediate action from the city.
The demonstration against daily “street sweeps” included a march from Pandora Avenue to city hall April 21.
Activists at the march called for several immediate demands from the city of Victoria, including putting an end to bylaw officers’ practise of sweeping through encampments to move unhoused people from parks and other areas in the city, defunding police and increasing funds to community care, and end the removal of personal belongings.
The march drew more than 50 people, who stood at city hall and chanted “stop the sweeps.”
“We’re really trying to keep it local and think about the local demand and bring our unhoused neighbours into the conversation,” said march organizer Ella Martindale. “It is a big conversation, but it is also something that is local and affects people every single day.”
Police were present to escort the march from Pandora Avenue to city hall, but organizers made clear they did not invite them.
Instead, the group encouraged those in the march to avoid contact with officers and use one of the group’s liaisons if approached.
The police presence at the event is something Martindale said they expected and are used to, but that they did not need or appreciate.
“We don’t need them to keep traffic out of the way for us, we didn’t ask them to be here,” she said. “We know how to keep folks safe, not only ourselves on the street, but we’re not looking to hurt anyone who is not a part of this movement.
The march and subsequent activities – all aimed around building community supports – were organized through an anti-colonial, community-based lens, Martindale said.
At city hall, the group created chalk art with more statements of “stop the sweeps” and “homes, not cops.”
“We’ve been doing a lot of talking about mutual aid and about how we can do that together and this is one way to showcase that,” Martindale said. “We’re providing food for people, we’re marching and giving space for people to speak, so we’re encouraging folks to do art together and talk to each other and talk about how they can go into the community and start making relationships on the streets.”