Vancouver Police announced Thursday that a large cache of weapons had been seized from a tent in Oppenheimer Park.
The lengthy list of weapons, including an SKS semi-automatic rifle, was discovered Tuesday evening while VPD responded to a reported domestic dispute.
The items were in plain view, VPD said in a news release, inside a tent police believe to be a communal space in the Downtown Eastside homeless camp.
No one was arrested because no single occupant of the tent could be identified.
Other weapons seized include a a silver revolver, two 6-mm orange handguns, two airsoft guns and a suspected replica Uzi. Police also removed more than 30 knives, two machetes, two axes, a hunting bow, smoke bombs, smoke grenades, handcuffs, ammunition, a dozen propane tanks, bicycles and a small quantity of drugs, including powders, pills and liquids.
“This is a unique seizure because of the size of the stash of weapons in this one location,” said VPD spokesman Sgt. Aaron Roed, adding that the guns are currently being analyzed to confirm if they’re real or replicas.
The remaining weapons and drugs are in police custody and will be destroyed.
“We are working with the community to keep the neighbourhood safe,” said Roed. “Taking these weapons off the streets is another step in the right direction. Officers will continue providing a presence, keeping the peace, and ensuring public safety for the park and surrounding neighbourhood.”
Tuesday’s substantial seizure supports recent claims from the VPD and some members of the Vancouver park board that the homeless camp is a magnet for violence and weapons.
“This is scary,” tweeted park board commissioner Tricia Barker. “We’ve known for a long time there is a violent crime problem at Oppenheimer Park but to see these pictures is shocking.”
Barker has been pushing, along with fellow NPA member John Coupar, for getting a court injunction to clear the encampment. The park board has so far rejected this option.
Camp spokesperson Chrissy Brett dismissed the VPD release as an attempt to incite public opinion against homeless people, calling it “inflammatory and without any conclusion.”
“There are many people here that don’t have any ties to any criminal organization or events in their lives and they’re just here trying to survive,” she said.
Brett also encouraged police to continue investigating whether or not the weapons were real.
“I think that we’ve already learned that when VPD makes media statements claiming that there are weapons that are found in Oppenheimer, in the past they’ve embellished that … and at the end, it was not as concerning as they had made out,” she said, alluding to a September 2019 news release in which police highlighted a drastic, year-over-year spike in guns taken from District 2, which includes Oppenheimer Park.
Critics said the release was misleading, as District 2 also includes the entire Downtown Eastside and the communities of Strathcona, Grandview-Woodlands and Hastings-Sunrise. Moreover, some weapons pictured in the news release were replicas or toys, and the 17 seized weapons attributed specifically to Oppenheimer were not guns.
A month later, police announced an investigation into a shooting at Oppenheimer, suggesting the incident was evidence of “deteriorating public safety … throughout the Downtown Eastside as a result of the large encampment in the park.”