CHARBONNEAU – Homeless cannot set fires for heat, cooking

(Image: CFJC Today)

WILL BEATTY, Emergency Preparedness Manager for the City of Kamloops, suggests that the homeless could be justified in setting open fires.

“We have to understand that necessities of life are usually the reason why either the vulnerable or marginalized population are setting fires,” says Beatty. “If it’s to cook, if it’s to stay warm (Radio NL April 25, 2023).”

Open fires require a permit and it’s not likely that the homeless have one. They could get by without a permit: “Open cooking fires in non-combustible containers using only briquettes or CSA-approved propane or natural gas cooking appliances,” according to the city website.

Was Beatty thinking of the rights of the homeless under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

In 2015, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled that the homeless people are allowed to erect temporary shelters between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. because of a lack of accessible shelter space. Justice Hinkson found that a prohibition on camping breached their rights under the charter to life, liberty and the security of person.

In compliance of the court’s decision, the City of Kamloops set rules for overnight temporary shelters. They can be erected from 9 p.m.–7 a.m., March to November and from 5 p.m.–8 a.m., December to February.

“Failure to follow the rules may result in shelters being dismantled: Valuable items may be impounded, and garbage may be disposed of,” says the City.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t include the right to light an open fire.
A fire which tore through Strathcona Park in Kamloops recently was sparked by a homeless encampment.

Not only was the fire illegal, not only did it threaten nearby houses, but the location of the camp was not in a designated area for temporary shelters. The RCMP are now investigating the fire as criminal in nature.

Then a house on Gleneagles Drive was gutted by a fire set in a pathway by the house. From the path, it spread to cedar trees and from there to the house.

There’s no indication that the fire that burned the Gleneagles house was a result of a homeless encampment but it does point to the dangers of setting open fires in Kamloops.

I sympathize with the need to cook food and stay warm while sleeping outside. I have great memories of backpacking overnight in the Rockies near Calgary and in wilderness areas around Kamloops.

But Kamloops’ homeless must realize that when they are “living rough” in the city, and when they are beneficiaries of what the city has to offer in the way of food, clothing and shelter, they have to respect the rules.

It’s not too much to ask.

Many homeless obviously like Kamloops. Who wouldn’t? Three-quarters of them have lived here for over a year.

You don’t hear much about the hundreds of homeless who quietly camp out. I see their encampments by the river near my house in Westsyde this time of year. While they don’t pack up in daytime as they should, their camps are neat and tidy.

We have interesting conversations when I stop by their camps: what brought them here and where they’re headed next.

They will have to leave soon enough when the river floods their sites and washes the earth clean again for next spring.

David Charbonneau is a retired TRU electronics instructor who hosts a blog at

About Mel Rothenburger (9634 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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