Occupy Vancouver: City Debates Use Of Force To End Protest

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OCCUPY VANCOUVER
Vancouver's police chief says he isn't interested in dispersing Occupy Vancouver protesters by force because the tactic simply hasn't worked in U.S. cities. | Getty Images

VANCOUVER - Vancouver's police chief says he isn't interested in dispersing Occupy Vancouver protesters by force because the tactic simply hasn't worked in U.S. cities.

Chief Jim Chu appeared in front of city council Tuesday and was asked by the mayor his opinion of the city's "wait-and-watch" approach to resolving the demonstration, part of a global movement.

"In other jurisdictions where they tried to end it with police interventions, it hasn't ended it," Chu told the public meeting, as councillors asked questions of senior city staff and mulled over how best to bring about a peaceful resolution.

Chu noted that when officers descended on the demonstration in Oakland, Calif., protesters reconverged in equal numbers. Riot-clad police raided the camp last week and used tear gas to drive out crowds, yet the camp returned the next day.

The city report noted using the hardline police approach has also not worked in Chicago or Melbourne. Mass arrests have been made in Denver, Portland and Perth. Officials in London abandoned attempts at seeking a court injunction.

Chu said he's been closely following developments in Canadian and U.S. cities. He said if council decides police should move in, he would rather council get a court order first before asking police to act.

"We have experienced (protests) in the city before," he said.

"Our goal in the police department is to help facilitate lawful protest. We're seeing ourselves as peace officers. (We) want to ensure no criminal acts take place."

City staff provided council with an update Tuesday on the village that's sprung up in the downtown core on the front lawn of the iconic Vancouver Art Gallery.

Tuesday's council meeting was the final one before the upcoming municipal election, and one councillor who's vying for the mayor's job tried to ask the city to shut the activism down.

But city manager Penny Ballem told council neither police, firefighters nor health officials have raised imminent concerns for the upwards of 150 daytime participants or 60 people who remain in tents each night.

She noted that going to the courts to get an injunction would require showing there are significant risks to the public and that process could still take days or weeks.

"We would be challenged to find a reason for a court to take any action," she said.

Should that change, however, Chu explained how the situation might be resolved.

He said if protesters refused to leave despite being legally compelled by an injunction, the city would then be required to obtain an enforcement order.

At that point police would do their job, he said.

"Of course when we go in, we're certainly trying as best we can to do this with at least force possible, with the best co-operation from people. That's what we would strive for," he said.

Occupy protests against what demonstrators say is corporate greed are occurring in 1,700 cities around the world, noted Ballem in her update.

Ballem and Mayor Gregor Robertson said they have hopes of negotiating a peaceful resolution.

Ballem acknowledged it was likely owing to the Stanley Cup riot that more police and other first responders were out during the first weekend of protest, ballooning costs. Marches and the occupation in Vancouver began on Oct. 15, in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protest that started it all.

Ballem said while the protest has cost the city half a million dollars so far, the relatively calm and co-operative nature of the group still on the land has allowed the city to reduce costs.

The protest has been going on amidst a civic election campaign.

Robertson's main rival in the Nov. 19 vote demanded he outline for council his plans on how to bring the situation to resolution.

"People are good, protest is good, but the tents are not and they're causing a significant inconvenience," said Coun. Suzanne Anton.

Robertson accused her of grandstanding.

"We've been hearing from staff across the board here that many of those risks are being managed," Robertson said, adding he is looking for a peaceful solution.

"We don't want the kind of mistakes that have been made in other cities that provoked violence."

In fact, Anton's attempt to have the Occupy Vancouver camp shutdown failed when nobody on council seconded her motion.

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