B.C. Occupy protesters get some breathing room
Published Wednesday, November 9, 2011 10:32PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 6:31AM EDT
Protesters living in Vancouver's downtown Occupy encampment may be allowed to keep their tents a little longer, even as their counterparts in cities across Canada are under increased pressure to dismantle their camps.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge said Wednesday that protesters can remain at the camp near the Vancouver Art Gallery while lawyers plan their defence against the city's attempts to shut it down.
City lawyers are trying to obtain an injunction to force Occupy protesters to decamp, citing fire hazards and other safety concerns at the protest site.
Police Chief Jim Chu said protesters should leave now, while it is still their choice to do so.
"If you wish to avoid arrest and avoid whatever violence will be initiated by those among you, we urge the legitimate protesters to leave now," Chu told reporters Tuesday.
Chu said the Vancouver protests have seen some ugly developments, including a Monday night incident in which police officers were assaulted and firefighters were pushed around.
"It has often been said by those in the Occupy movement that they represent the 99 per cent of us," Chu said.
"If that is true then we ask you to remember that 99 per cent of the population obeys the law and respects the rights of others."
The City of Victoria is also trying for a similar injunction to what Vancouver has sought, but the hearing will not take place until Tuesday.
Judge Anne MacKenzie ordered all open flames at the Vancouver site to be removed by 7 p.m. local time Wednesday, as well as some tarps and unoccupied tents. Protesters must also ensure there is about one metre of space between tents by 2 p.m. Thursday.
Firefighters and city officials also have permission to remove items that don't comply with the judge's orders after those deadlines.
"It strikes a reasonable compromise between the need for health and safety interests to be satisfied and the need for freedom of expression," said lawyer Jason Gratl, who represents the Occupy Vancouver protesters.
"One-hundred per cent compliance in situations like these is sometimes elusive. But I expect the vast majority of Occupy Vancouver participants will adhere."
The protesters' lawyers had said demonstrators will space their tents farther apart, cease using propane and put out all open flames. They will also allow firefighters onto the site to conduct inspections.
However, they are hoping to get permission for First Nations elders to burn ceremonial fires.
November 16 is the date lawyers will return to court to argue for and against a permanent injunction to force Vancouver protesters to clear their camp.
Other cities eye similar measures
On Wednesday, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford became the latest leader to suggest that the protesters were wearing out their welcome in a downtown public space.
Ford told reporters that residents say they have "had enough" and he wants the Occupy Toronto protesters to leave St. James Park.
"I think it's the right thing to do, to ask them to move on, and that's what people want me to do and that's what I'm going to do," said Ford, who intends to schedule a meeting with Toronto police Chief Bill Blair on the issue.
Upon hearing Ford's words, protesters said "no way" when asked if they would leave the park.
The city has appointed an outreach team to help find a solution, including negotiating with protesters. However, without a clear leader of the group, the city is working on back-up plans for resolving the standoff.
"It's on the front burner, and we're going to try to resolve this as soon as we can," Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday told CTV Toronto.
Parks and Environment Committee chair Norm Kelly said the goal is to avoid violent clashes between protesters and police, as happened during the G20 demonstrations last June.
"We realize that when you're handling a lot of people who feel passionately about an issue, you have to deal with the situation very, very carefully," he said.
About two hours away in London, Ont., Mayor Joe Fontana announced Wednesday that Occupy protesters will be barred from building new tents in a park where officials dismantled their previous encampment overnight.
Fontana said the protesters will also have to end their demonstrations in Victoria Park by 10 p.m. every day because they will no longer be permitted to stay in the park all night.
"These decisions are never easy and this has never been about denying free speech or free assembly," Fontana said Wednesday.
"Anyone is free to gather in our parks during the day and evening but we could not and would not permit people to occupy a public park indefinitely."
Bylaw and police officers dismantled the tents and other structures of the local Occupy protest in London overnight, after warning the protesters to leave Victoria Park by 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Hours later, Fontana and London police Chief Brad Duncan told reporters that there had not been any arrests or any violence during the dismantling of the protesters' tents and other structures.
They gave credit to the Occupy protesters for leaving the park without incident.
Fontana said the city wants to "work constructively" with the protesters in the days ahead "and would welcome their continued involvement as we seek to better the lives of Londoners."
Officials in London had said they intend to begin repairing damages to the park and to prepare to decorate it for the holidays.
But Wednesday evening, a single protester returned to the park and set up a tent. Officers quickly moved in to remove the man from the park.
In Calgary, the city council has voted to try to force the occupiers out of Olympic Plaza.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city council wants the protesters to depart quickly, though he did not provide a timeline on when he expect that to happen.
Nenshi said the city is prepared to give warnings and tickets to encourage the protesters to leave. They could also remove tents from the plaza.
Occupy protesters in Halifax have already vacated a city square, but only to allow officials to prepare for upcoming Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly said he was appreciative of the protesters' co-operation, but he is not as enthusiastic about their plan to return to the Grand Parade square.
"They have to understand that this is a public square and it's not just for one group but for everybody," Kelly said. "They had their time here."
Protesters with the Occupy movement have set up camp elsewhere, including:
- In Montreal, where demonstrators have vowed to build makeshift cabins in Victoria Square, despite a refusal by City Hall to grant permits for the dwellings.
- In Ottawa, where demonstrators told police about 400 used needles found in the park where they have set up camp. Protesters believe someone planted the needles to undermine their protest.
- In Edmonton, where protesters have been asked to leave the private land on which they have set up camp. The mayor has also threatened to cut off their power.
With files from The Canadian Press and reports from CTV Toronto's Natalie Johnson and Austin Delaney