NEWS

Occupy Toronto: Eviction Notices Given To Protesters

11/15/2011 09:31 EST | Updated 01/15/2012 05:12 EST
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UPDATE: CTV News is reporting that Toronto protesters have been granted a stay of eviction. The order comes just hours after city by-law enforcement officers began handing out eviction to the crowd gathered at St. James Park.

Under Judge David Brown's order, police can't take down tents in the park, but protesters are banned from putting them up. If the crowd grows, the order will be rescinded.

As CBC News reports, Brown is citing a need for more information before he can rule on Toronto's bid to clear the park. A hearing will be held Friday to discuss the issue with a verdict by 6 pm ET Saturday.

TORONTO - Occupy Toronto protesters refused to leave the downtown park they took over a month ago in defiance of a city eviction notice issued Tuesday that their occupation was illegal.

As police looked on, bylaw officers threaded their way between tents and through the mud to put up the notices, which were quickly taken down.

"I will be standing my ground here," said Hannah Kovacs, 22, as he burned one of the pieces of paper.

"If they want me to leave, they'll have to kill me first."

The notices warned that occupation of St. James Park between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. and erecting structures in the facility contravened city laws.

There was no immediate word on when the city would act on its threat to clear out the tents and other makeshift structures.

In a statement later Tuesday, the protesters said the city could not "evict an idea" whose time had come and said they planned to stay.

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"We reaffirm our right to the use of public space to assemble, peacefully protest, and establish collective dialogue on issues that affect us all," the statement said.

"These rights are guaranteed to all of us."

But some demonstrators said they would leave rather than risk confrontation with police and possible criminal charges.

"It seems like a silly thing to be risking my clean record for," Tim Topping said as he packed up his tent.

"I'd still be willing to help, but from the outside," said the 23-year-old, who has spent almost a month in the park.

The protesters took over the park several blocks east of Bay Street on Oct. 15 as part of the Occupy movement that began on Wall Street to decry corporate greed and the growing gap between haves and have-nots.

The initial handful of tents that weekend quickly expanded to a mini-village with a library, media centre, medical facility and food and logistics areas.

"The city recognizes the rights of Canadians to gather and protest," city manager Joe Pennachetti said in an open letter to the protesters.

"However, the city has determined that it cannot allow the current use of St. James Park to continue."

The letter went on to warn that the city will take the "necessary steps" to remove the tents and other structures if the demonstrators don't do so themselves.

About a dozen Toronto councillors said the city was moving too quickly.

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In a letter to Mayor Rob Ford, they urged no action be taken until the issue had been discussed by council in two weeks.

About two dozen people staged a sit-in outside city hall late Tuesday afternoon to express their opposition to the eviction notices.

Activist Taylor Chelsea said one option was to consider a court challenge.

"Does constitutional law supersede bylaw?" Chelsea said. "We're working with lawyers to figure that out right now."

Police spokesman Mark Pugash said officers were on hand to keep the peace as the bylaw officers did their business.

It would be up to the city to decide when to clear out the park or if police would be needed.

Police did arrest two men when about two dozen protesters marched in downtown Toronto Tuesday in support of Occupy Wall Streeters who had been cleared from a Manhattan park overnight.

They gathered outside Brookfield Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park near Wall Street.

The arrested men were aged 29 and 47. Both were charged with assaulting a peace officer.

Across the country, cities have made it clear their patience with the demonstrations has worn thin.

Some, such as Halifax, London, Ont., and Saskatoon have already evicted their Occupy protesters.

In Regina, police ticketed seven people late Monday night for being in Victoria Park in violation of city bylaws.

In Calgary, protesters in Olympic Plaza sang "Kumbaya" on Tuesday as officers handed out bylaw tickets giving them 24 hours to leave after the city-issued deadline to empty the park passed.

In other cities, groups have defied requests or orders to leave. In Vancouver, city workers removed several tents and tarps, enforcing a court order to bring the site in line with fire safety bylaws.

The city planned to ask B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday for an injunction to clear the camp.

The City of Victoria was also in court Tuesday seeking an injunction to evict Occupy campers. The case was adjourned until Thursday to allow the demonstrators more time to prepare.

In Montreal, authorities said they had no plans to remove downtown protesters.

"As long as there's no crime and as long as there are no excesses ... we will tolerate the tents here," said police Insp. Marc St-Cyr.

Meanwhile, Canadian folk legend Gordon Lightfoot stopped by the Toronto park to visit his 17-year-old daughter. Too many young people face a bleak economic future, he said.

"What's going to happen to our kids?" asked Lightfoot, whose daughter came down with pneumonia while occupying the park. "I really admire these folks here in Toronto."

Toronto's deputy mayor Doug Holyday said the city was hoping most people would leave without violence or arrests.

"That's probably a tall order but that's what we're still hoping for," Holyday said.

The mayor was not immediately available to comment. But last week Ford said it was time for the protesters to move on because businesses and taxpayers have been complaining.

— With files from James Keller in Vancouver, Dirk Meissner in Victoria and Peter Ray in Montreal.

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