POLITICS

Occupy Toronto: Mayor Rob Ford Says Time For Protest To End

11/09/2011 11:16 EST | Updated 01/09/2012 05:12 EST
AP
TORONTO - After weeks of protests in several Canadian cities, Occupy groups are being asked to leave some of the parks and public areas where they have been camping.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said Wednesday that protesters camped out in a downtown park in the city should pack up and go.

"Obviously I’m here to represent the businesses and the taxpayers of the city, and I’ve been getting numerous calls from people who have told me they’ve had enough," said Ford.

"I think it’s the right thing to do, to ask them to move on, and that’s what people want me to do and that’s what I’m going to do."

Officials in Vancouver, Victoria and Calgary have also announced plans to start removing camps, while Regina's protesters have been asked to leave voluntarily.

In Edmonton, campers on land owned by a private company have been asked to leave and the mayor has talked about cutting off their power. Montreal's protesters have been warned not to erect makeshift shelters. Halifax campers cleared out on their own.

Ford did not set any deadline to get the protesters out of St. James Park, but said he was trying to schedule a meeting with police Chief Bill Blair to decide on the best way to do it.

"They’ve had a peaceful protest, but I think it’s time that we asked them to leave," said Ford.

Don Bryce, 44, who spends days at a time camped in Toronto, said he's not surprised to hear some people have complained. That shouldn't be grounds to evict the protesters, he said.

"Of course there's going to be opposition" to a movement that calls for fundamental changes to society, he said, adding demonstrators moved out of the park will just relocate.

"There's other places we can go. We've already checked into this."

Ford's comments came just hours after police and bylaw officers in London, Ont. dismantled tents set up in a local park by Occupy protesters, some of whom remain in the park without shelter.

No violence or arrests were reported when the tents were dismantled, hours after a Tuesday deadline set by London Mayor Joe Fontana.

"This is not about winning or losing," Fontana told a news conference Wednesday.

"I think London demonstrated that it took a very reasonable, balanced approach. Look what's happening in other cities," he added.

In Vancouver, protesters were back in force in the courts defending their encampment in front of the city art gallery.

B.C. Supreme Court Judge Anne MacKenzie said Wednesday she will permit Occupy Vancouver to remain while lawyers for the group mount a defence against the city's push to permanently take down the tents.

But she said firefighters and city staff have the court's permission to enforce fire bylaws, backed by police support. A deadline of 7 p.m. Wednesday was set for removing all open flames, while certain tarps and unoccupied tents were ordered removed by 2 p.m. Thursday.

"It strikes a reasonable compromise between the need for health and safety interests to be satisfied and the need for freedom of expression," said lawyer Jason Gratl, on behalf of the Occupy Vancouver protesters.

"One-hundred per cent compliance in situations like these is sometimes elusive. But I expect the vast majority of Occupy Vancouver participants will adhere."

Lawyers will return to court on Nov. 16 to argue the case for a permanent injunction to clear tents off the site. The city contends there are imminent safety concerns, including the death of a 23-year-old Victoria woman in a tent on Saturday.

The judge noted it would be up to the city fire chief's discretion to allow any specific ceremonial First Nations' fire at the site. Just such a fire caused a clash between firefighters, police and protesters earlier this week.

Two officers went to to hospital with bite wounds when the firefighters moved in to extinguish a barrel fire the group called sacred. The melee prompted the city's police chief to warn the group to disperse immediately.

A spokeswoman for police said Wednesday the force will respect the court's decision.

The escalation of tensions in Vancouver came as the Occupy Halifax camp voluntarily cleared out.

The public square in front of Halifax city hall was unoccupied Tuesday for the first time in nearly a month as the anti-capitalist protesters relocated ahead of Remembrance Day ceremonies.

In Montreal, the protest site at Victoria Square has become a village of tents but City Hall has refused requests for permits to build makeshift wood cabins.

Protesters say they'll build them anyway.

"This is like telling someone not to put on a winter coat when it's cold outside," said Felix St-Laurent, a spokesman for the Montreal protesters.

"The guy will grab his coat and put it on anyway."

Meanwhile, Occupy Ottawa protesters said Wednesday they have notified police after finding more than 400 used needles scattered around the park where they are camping.

"We regularly monitor the park for suspicious activity, and we have determined that this was a deliberate attack against the occupation," said Mitchell Broughton, who found one of the needles at a park entrance.

"This is clearly an attempt to discredit us," he said.

Canada's Occupy demonstrations are among dozens around the world that grew out of the Occupy Wall Street movement targeting corporate greed and economic inequity.