Occupy protesters in B.C. may be forced to pack up tents
Protesters with the occupy movement in both Vancouver and Victoria may be forced to pack up their tents Monday as officials in both cities seek to clear the camps over scheduling conflicts and safety concerns.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has said he has instructed city officials and the chiefs of the fire and police departments to find a way of removing the encampment peacefully.
With a civic election looming later this month, the Occupy Vancouver camp issue has been made more contentious by the death Saturday of 23-year-old Ashlie Gough of Victoria, as well as by a non-fatal drug overdose two days earlier.
The BC Coroners Service would not speculate on the cause of Gough's death, but said there is no evidence to consider her death suspicious.
On Sunday, Vancouver City manager Penny Ballem told reporters that the camp must go.
"Given the situation that we have had a death, a very tragic death ... which I think really shook everybody up, we need to move in an expediting way to remove the part of this protest that is presenting a life-safety risk."
Ballem said given Gough's death and the near-fatal overdose, "we think there will be co-operation."
If protesters will not leave, she said, the city could seek an injunction as early as this week.
In Victoria, officials have served notice to protesters that they have until noon on Monday to pack up their camp because the demonstration will conflict with planned events in the city.
"The city appreciates you vacating the lawn around the Sequoia tree to permit preparation for the traditional tree lighting," the notice states.
"Holding demonstrations and other events without a permit and erecting tents and other structures in Centennial Square contravenes the city's Parks Regulation Bylaw."
Vancouver Police Const. Jana McGuinness said ending the camp in the city will be a challenge but she appealed for calm.
"We're hoping for co-operation should that time come," she said. "We want it to go smoothly. We don't want to see anybody be hurt."
Eric Hamilton-Smith, one of the spokespeople for the Vancouver protesters, said he hopes the courts decide against issuing an injunction that would require the demonstrators to pack up their camp.
"It's not enough to overrule our Charter rights of political expression and peaceful assembly, it is not enough just to have one person who died," Hamilton-Smith said.
"It is not enough to have one person who died," he said. "People die everyday in the (Vancouver's) Downtown Eastside and nobody cares."
Robertson said the protest site on the grounds of the city's art gallery is unsafe and must be shut down as soon as possible.
The mayor said the death of the 23-year-old woman was particularly upsetting for him because he has a daughter who is around the same age.
"There is a serious problem here and we want to address it urgently," Robertson said on Saturday night at the site of the protest.
"I think the protest on the really important issues that many of us are passionate about is being undermined by a tent camp and the issues around the right to camp on public space, which is really unfortunate," Robertson said.
"And now we have a critical incident that demonstrates there's life safety at risk here."
Conditions at the camp have led mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton to call for a legal injunction to remove the tents altogether.
"It's not any one thing, but rats, drug overdose, now there's fire safety," Anton said. "If the site can't be safe, there's cost, huge cost to Vancouver taxpayers."
After a man was found unconscious because of a drug overdose this week and emergency workers had trouble reaching him, the fire department issued an order that tents be spaced further apart to allow access in case of emergency.
Hamilton-Smith said protesters want to erect new, geodesic tents with fire-resistant tarps to comply with fire safety regulations.
Ballem said new tents or other changes at the site would violate an agreement already in place between the city and protesters.
With files from CTV British Columbia's Nafeesa Karim and The Canadian Press