NEWS

Occupy Canada Movements: Patience Starting To Wear Thin

10/26/2011 06:23 EDT | Updated 12/26/2011 05:12 EST
CP
There are signs that patience is starting to wear thin with the Occupy movements across Canada, as officials in several cities are signalling to protesters that the communities want to reclaim their public spaces.

Occupiers in some cities have been given deadlines to leave, though there are no signs that authorities are considering approaches more extreme than asking nicely.

Some are even suggesting they simply move it somewhere else, a markedly different approach to what was seen at the Occupy protests in Oakland, Calif., and Atlanta this week.

Police in Oakland fired tear gas and beanbag rounds at Occupy demonstrators Tuesday, which cleared out the site for a few hours. Police in Atlanta warned protesters there to leave a downtown park, and early Wednesday morning they moved in and arrested about 50 people.

In Calgary, where the Occupy movement has split into two factions, demonstrators occupying a prime downtown location have been asked to leave and return to the original, less high-traffic park agreed upon with authorities.

The downtown Olympic Plaza has been booked for a cultural celebration next Tuesday, so officials have asked the protesters to leave that spot Thursday so they have time to repair damage that they say has been done to the grass, washrooms, artwork and infrastructure.

"We do need these demonstrators to respect that there are others and that they don't necessarily represent the 99 per cent, but rather a smaller group of people who are making a park not available for others who have booked it," said Tom Sampson, the deputy chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency.

Sampson said the movement may have a good message, but judging from feedback and complaints he has heard from community members, he thinks their methods may be causing them to lose public support.

"People don't understand what their message is anymore," he said. "They don't understand what their purpose is."

Occupy protesters in Halifax have been asked to leave the public square in front of city hall by the early evening of Nov. 6, in time for the area to be cleaned up for ceremonies marking Remembrance Day and the Dignity Day Ceremony on Nov. 9, which marks Kristallnacht, when more than 30,000 Jews were arrested by the Nazis in Germany in 1938.

Mayor Peter Kelly has offered the protesters space on the Halifax Commons, a large park that's about a 20-minute walk away.

In Edmonton, protesters are occupying private property in the heart of downtown, and an event that was to be held in support of the United Way couldn't take place, said the president of the company that owns the property.

Ralph Young said his company, Melcor Developments Ltd., gave the occupiers a letter last week suggesting they pack up every night by 11 p.m. and return in the next morning. Young noted there's a smell that lingers because the only sanitation facilities are a few portable toilets.

"It's not something we condone," he said. "We have not given approval, but we have not said we're going to take any legal or police action to have them removed."

Young has heard complaints from his corporate tenants about protesters "doing bodily functions outside in the open," as well as the sudden appearance of syringes and needles nearby.

"We're just hopeful it will come to a relatively speedy and peaceful end," he said.

The mayor of London, Ont., said Wednesday that it's time for the protesters to leave a city park.

"We understand and support the right of people to stage orderly and peaceful demonstrations," he said in a statement.

"But we ask that the protesters respect our bylaws, which do not allow structures in our parks or activity that prevents others from enjoying our parks. We are getting complaints from Londoners about this."

The Occupy protests have become a hot-button issue in the Vancouver mayoral campaign.

The city has tolerated the protest so far, with a crowd of tents on the front lawn of the downtown Vancouver Art Gallery, a building that is a favourite spot for protests of all kinds.

Mayor Gregor Robertson said during a mayoral candidates debate Tuesday that he wants a peaceful resolution.

"It is your right to protest," he said Tuesday night. "It is not your right to have an encampment in our downtown."

He did not issue a deadline.

Robertson's opponent, Coun. Suzanne Anton, has said she'd give protesters a week's notice after becoming mayor "and then they'll have to be gone." She didn't elaborate on how she would make that happen.

Protesters in Toronto are occupying the park adjacent to a downtown church. The church has said it did not invite the protesters there, is not involved and has no power to evict them.

Mayor Rob Ford's spokeswoman has said that when it is no longer "a peaceful protest, but rather an occupation of the park," the city will consider removing the protesters.

City staff told the mayor's office they are working to determine next steps, Adrienne Batra said on Wednesday.

"It is important to balance public safety concerns and their right to a peaceful protest," Batra wrote in a statement.

But in Montreal, officials are showing no signs of fatigue with the occupation.

Gonzalo Nunez, a spokesman for the city, said there are no plans to remove about 200 demonstrators who set up camp in a park in front of the Montreal Stock Exchange tower.

"We recognize their right to protest in a peaceful manner," he said. "For the time being, the city is tolerating the presence of the demonstrators and the campers as long as everything is peaceful."

Comments from people online about stories on the Montreal protests tell a different story. They are overwhelmingly negative, such as one person who said they live just a few blocks away from the park.

"I don't know which 99% they think they represent but it's certainly not me," wrote the disgruntled Montrealer. "I have had to work 2 jobs most of my life and have never been out of work...So in short, just go home people."

— with files from John Lewandowski in Halifax and Peter Rakobowchuk in Montreal

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