Katie Lewis, an outspoken resident of Strathcona, where tensions are high over the presence of a large tent city in the community’s namesake park, says she was bludgeoned and left unconscious outside her home on the weekend.
The alleged attack on Lewis, the vice-president of the Strathcona Residents’ Association, comes after her own repeated pleas for authorities to better police the camp, and for governments to deal with the campers and their needs. The report led to Andrew Wilkinson, the leader of the B.C. Liberals, restating Monday his party’s pre-election pledge to end tent cities altogether.
It was around 6:30 p.m. Saturday, near the corner of Hawks Avenue and E. Georgia Street, when Lewis said she “kind of knew there was a guy hanging back about a block way.”
She had been out walking, having delivered a Moroccan lamb soup to a neighbour on Union St., then taken a stroll by Strathcona Park along Prior St.
When Lewis reached her front steps, she said she was struck on the head several times with a metal pipe. She said she did not see the blows coming, but could identify the weapon by “a coolness of metal that was unmistakable,” and because she keeps a pipe of her own inside her front door.
Lewis said she regained consciousness about 10-15 minutes later, she estimated. Nothing had been stolen, and she initially chose not to report the attack.
“I guess because of my position and because of who I am in the community, I didn’t want to bring more attention to this, and I felt very uncomfortable about escalating this,” Lewis said.
But she ultimately decided to call police and said she did so around 11 p.m. It took plainclothes officers seconds to arrive, she recalled. She told them what she knew, describing the attacker as a white guy with dark hair, dark eyes and a dark hoodie.
The Vancouver Police Department said it received a report of an assault coming from the same area around 3 a.m. Sunday. The plainclothes officers who responded met with a Vancouver woman in her 30s who stated she’d been gardening in her yard Saturday when she’d been hit in the head from behind. The suspect ran off before she could get a description, Tania Visintin, a VPD spokeswoman, said without confirming that Lewis was the victim.
“It appears the victim received minor injuries and declined the officer’s suggestion to have paramedics attend for a medical assessment,” Visintin said.
Lewis attributed the discrepancies to the blows she took to the head. She said she did eventually go to hospital, where she received 13 stitches and was told if she’d been knocked out she would have been concussed. After a Postmedia photographer met Lewis Monday he described her as appearing dizzy, and a videographer said her speech seemed fragmented.
Lewis said she has had many confrontations with people who are living in Strathcona Park, and said police have warned her to keep to its perimeter. She said she is recognizable and believes she was targeted.
“If you think taking me out with a pipe is going to shut me up? Good f***ing luck,” she said. “They think they can come and they can shut me up? I will never shut up. I will always fight for my community and I will do it until the day I die.”
Fiona York, a community organizer who volunteers at the park, said the attack “is contributing to a lot of anxiety in the camp.”
York said it was very traumatic for anyone to be hurt or injured. She offered her sympathy and said people in the camp have a lot of compassion for their neighbours, including for those who are housed.
York said she has never witnessed a direct confrontation between a camper and a housed resident, but she has heard threats of vigilantism from the latter group, particularly after a confrontation between Vancouver City Councillor Pete Fry and a man in Strathcona this summer. That man was initially labelled a likely camp resident, but York said that was incorrect, and his presence in the community had predated the encampment.
There has been a dramatic increase in police calls to Strathcona Park since the camp was erected, VPD statistics show. August saw nearly four times the calls as compared to the year prior and six times the calls in September.
A 46-year-old man is listed in critical condition after being stabbed last week in a tent in the park.