Montreal warns Occupy activists to remove tents
(Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
MONTREAL - The dismantling of protest camps in Canada's largest cities is now nearly complete, with members of the Occupy Montreal movement warned that they will face a fate similar to their allies in Toronto and Vancouver.
Montreal municipal officials say their tolerance has run out with the activists occupying a square in the downtown financial district.
Police have been handing out notices ordering the Occupy Montreal protesters to immediately remove their tents. Some of the urban campers have already begun packing up.
A two-sided bilingual flyer, dated Nov. 23, warns that if the installations aren't taken down, the city will do it. The notice cites city bylaws that prohibit use of the square between midnight and 6 a.m.
A city spokesman says Montreal wants the campers to leave on their own, but he adds that necessary measures will be taken if required.
"We have indicated that the period of tolerance towards the protesters at the campground is over and that we will apply the city's existing bylaws," Gonzalo Nunez said on Thursday.
"We're still working on convincing the protesters to act on a voluntary basis, (and) we're hopeful that we will see some progress."
No deadline has been set.
The Montreal protest, which first set up camp on Oct. 15, remains the last-standing of three biggest Canadian centres where the Occupy movement took root.
The tents have already come down in Toronto but protesters, joined by hundreds of unionized workers, held a march Thursday. They marched through the city's financial district, ending with a short rally outside city hall at Nathan Phillips Square.
In Vancouver, police moved in earlier this week to dismantle a second Occupy site that sprang up after the initial site at an art gallery was deemed illegal and ordered removed.
It has been quite a spectacular turnaround, meanwhile, in Montreal.
Up until a few days ago, Mayor Gerald Tremblay was cheering on the protesters.
But reports of drug use and scuffles at Montreal's protest site -- which coincided with the dismantling of other cities' camps -- appeared to trigger an instant policy shift.
Vivian, one of the occupiers who would only give her first name, says she can't understand why the mayor wants to kick them out now.
"Two weeks ago he said we could stay if we do various things like make the site secure," she said on Thursday.
"But we live in a world of hypocrisy so I don't understand why this happened all of a sudden."
She says some of the campers are now removing valuables -- in case they are forcibly removed. Several also have slowly started to dismantle their tents.
She conceded that some incidents did get out of hand.
The city says protesters have had trouble co-habitating with some of the homeless, while other campers have had health issues and there have also been fire hazards.
"Once public safety is compromised, we have always said that the tolerance will be over," Nunez reiterated.
The structures also have been covered in snow this week during the city's first winter storm of the season.
While the end is near for Montreal, Vivian says the world-wide movement can claim victory because there's now a public debate over the growing gap between rich and poor.
"People are talking about it, it's been talked about in city councils, students are talking about it, parents are talking about it, so that's a big victory to begin with -- to get people to think," she said.
A big demonstration has also been planned at the site on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver-based magazine credited with sparking the Occupy protests wants to start a new campaign -- Occupy Christmas.
Adbusters Magazine is calling on people to take the consumerism out of the holiday and not shop.
It wants North Americans to boycott door-buster sales and crowded mall parking lots starting with Black Friday.