BUSINESS

Occupy Canada: Cities Growing Impatient With Protesters; Set Eviction Deadlines

11/07/2011 04:00 EST | Updated 01/06/2012 05:12 EST
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Cities across Canada that have begun making moves towards tearing down three-week-old Occupy camps are being met with responses ranging from contempt to compromise.

Eviction notices have been served in Victoria, Quebec City and Vancouver, while Halifax asked for demonstrators to relocate at least for Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Protesters firmly rejected Victoria's notice of removal on Monday, marching past a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald on their way to city hall where they hand-delivered a letter saying they would be staying put.

Another protester climbed a huge Maple tree and perched himself on branches that overlook the mayor's office.

The city threatened prosecution against dozens of campers who have been living in pitched tents in and around Centennial Square since Oct. 15, the day numerous Occupy protests sprung up across Canada and the globe in support of the grassroots movement begun in New York City's Wall Street.

The movement is shining a spotlight on the massive gap between the small percentage of very rich people in the world and everyone else, fingering multinational corporations and corrupt politicians as perpetrators of an unjust economic system.

But some protesters did try to clear part of the site to make way for a temporary outdoor skating rink for the holiday season.

"There's somewhat a feeling of betrayal, if that's not putting it too melodramatically at this point," said Occupy Victoria spokeswoman Anushke Nagji, adding that city council passed a motion a week ago supporting the camp.

She said the letter handed to a clerk declares that the city of Victoria has failed to uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms right to peaceful assembly.

But the notice, citing the demonstration contravenes the city's parks regulation bylaw, was enough to dissuade one participant.

Camper Bryan Salyzar said he was taking down his tent after spending more than three weeks living in the square.

"On behalf of those other people, I say, good luck and congratulations on your personal decision to show a lot of courage," he said, explaining he doesn't want to break the law.

The city said Monday it is considering an application to B.C. Supreme Court for a court injunction.

Campers at Occupy Vancouver vowed to stay put after the city posted a notice Monday morning asking that the encampment be immediately dismantled, citing an escalation of safety concerns.

The city listed a death that occurred Saturday, a near-death due to drug overdose on Thursday, fire safety, injection drug use, the presence of pests and other hazards as its reasons.

"Staff have been directed to end the encampment in a way that can be done safely and peacefully while respecting the right to protest," says the notice, signed by city manager Penny Ballem.

It notes that protest is still welcome and the city will continue to allow a stage and to supply electric power for a sound system.

"However, by this notice, we ask you to take your tents, belongings and any other items or structures off the site immediately so that the safety concerns can be addressed."

Later in the day, Ballem told reporters that city lawyers will be in court Tuesday asking for a formal injunction.

Mathew Kagis, a volunteer in the medic tent, said the group is developing an evolving response to the request to vacate.

At a general assembly Sunday night, where the group makes decisions by consensus, they discussed how to respond if any authorities move in to take down the Occupy village.

"There's no violence accepted as part of this movement," said the 43-year-old Vancouver man. "We're now at a stage where we're 'satyagraha,' — what Ghandi did — non-violent, non-co-operation."

Tosh Hyodo, a former financial planner who's been volunteering at the camp, said if police were to move in, participants would respond with "non-violent resistance."

"When I saw the violence on the side of the mayor and police in New York City, it was astounding to see the courage of participants not fight back," said the 51-year-old. "They were being dragged, slammed, pepper-sprayed and nobody raised a hand.

"It was just like, 'I love you. I am you, you are me. I'm sorry you are doing this to me because you are doing it to yourself.'"

City officials said last week about 60 people stay in tents each night and there are usually upwards of 150 during the day. A 23-year-old woman from Victoria, Ashlie Gough, was found dead in a tent on Saturday afternoon.

Kagis said he's part of a team that has also implemented new protocol where they check each and every tent four times daily to ensure everyone inside is well.

"We're doing everything we can to keep people safe," he said, rejecting the city's argument.

"I think it's really incredibly sad the city has taken a human tragedy and turned it into a political football and a tool."

Hyodo said her only concern now is a small contingent of "anarchists" who have joined the encampment, because they don't share the same non-violent philosophy.

"Nobody is in control of anyone else here. So our hope is to slowly bring them on side."

Municipal authorities in Quebec City were also being cautious Monday, four days after serving an eviction notice to dozens of protesters who remain determined to continue occupying a public square.

As they did last Friday, police raided the site on Monday to take away firewood, tarps and other equipment. The city cites security reasons for demanding an end to the occupation. A small fire had broken out last week.

For now, there is no question of using aggressive means to dislodge protesters, said city spokesman Jacques Perron.

"We want them to leave the premises. Our message is very clear. They can just show up every day if they wish, but they need to leave at night. This is not a place for a permanent settlement," Perron said. "We're continuing our talks to convince them to undo the tents. That's our plan for the next 24 or 48 hours."

Some of the occupants were expected to appear Monday evening at a city council meeting.

"They are free to intervene in the question period, but this is not a forum for the debate," Perron said.

In Halifax, dozens of Occupy Nova Scotia protesters packed up their tents as they prepared to move to a nearby park in the city. The demonstrators, who moved three weeks ago to the Grand Parade in front of city hall, agreed to temporarily relocate to allow Remembrance Day ceremonies to proceed.

But they say they intend to return the next day.