Protesters at the Occupy Toronto camp have gathered in the hundreds to defy a court sanctioned eviction notice that says they must end their five-week long encampment at a downtown park.
Bylaw officers delivered a fresh batch of eviction notices to the encampment after Superior Court Justice David Brown’s ruling, issued just after 9 a.m. on Monday, upheld eviction notices issued by the city last week.
Protesters have been camping at St. James Park since Oct. 15, and a few took down their tents upon news of the court ruling.
The rest hunkered down, promising to resist using non-violent tactics, such as forming a human chain and going limp, if police try to force them out.
"Our right to carry out this protest, which is a global movement, is being threatened for a simple municipal bylaw," said protester Sakura Saunders. "We’re going to continue to be here and to transform this movement.”
Some protesters have built barricades around structures like their makeshift library, and chained themselves in. Protester Stefonknee Wolscht told reporters that others are planning a hunger strike.
Labour unions marched to the park in solidarity on Monday night, where the CBC's Jeff Semple reports hundreds of embolded protesters are holding an evening rally. If anything, reports Semple, those left have been emboldened by the eviction notices.
Church will not offer refuge to protesters
Some Occupy Toronto protesters maintain that the city's eviction notice does not apply to the parkland alongside St. James cathedral.
But Rev. Douglas Stoute reiterated in a press conference on Monday that, although the church has a clear title to a portion of the park, they will not be offering a safe haven to protesters.
"The city and the church have worked together for over 50 years, and we're working together today," said Stoute. "We're going to follow the court's rule and we ask and expect [the protesters] to do the same."
Stoute added that the eviction should not be an end, but rather a new chapter in the discussion about poverty and social inequality.
Although the church community is "sympathetic" to the aims of Occupy Toronto, he stressed that the demonstration is not an extension of the Cathedral's program.
Doug Johnson-Hatlam, a street pastor, expressed concern Monday night about what will happen to the homeless who have been part of the protest.
"The poorest of the poor are not only going to have a powerful political movement that they've been a part of squashed, but they're also going to be scattered, according to the city plans, to the four corners of the city," Hatlam said.
Judge rules city's trespass order "constitutionally valid"
Protesters had argued in court they had a constitutional right to camp in the park, which is located near the corner of King Street East and Church Street.
However, Mayor Rob Ford and his allies on Toronto city council have said occupiers have had their say and that neighbours and businesses in the area want the protesters to leave.
In submissions to the court, city officials have also pointed to damage to park grounds caused by the encampment and the need to prepare the park for winter. Protesters responded by saying that they would cooperate with the winterization of the park.
Protesters had argued the encampment was essential to ensuring their right to expression guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Justice Brown, however, rejected this argument in his ruling and said the city's trespass order was "constitutionally valid."
"Although proclaiming a message of participatory democracy, the evidence, unfortunately, reveals that the protesters did not practise what they were preaching when they decided to occupy the park. Specifically, they did not ask those who live and work around the park or those who use the park, or their civic representatives, what they would think if the park was turned into a tent city."
"The applicants have failed in their onus to establish that the city actions in any way offend their charter rights. They have failed to demonstrate the camping in the tents is in any way an expression or that they are needed or used to express any ideas. Their act of camping out and effectively taking over a public park is not protected under Section 2."
The full text of the judge's ruling is available by clicking here.
City mum on consequences for defiant protesters
In a press conference held after the judge's ruling was released on Monday, Ford said it was time for occupiers to leave the park.
"The city has worked to balance people's right to protest with public safety," Ford said. "However, this unauthorized use of a city park has interfered with the rights local residents have to the quiet enjoyment of their parks and homes and has negatively affected many area businesses."
City manager Joe Pennachetti said city staff will be made available to help protesters pack up their camp.
Both Ford and Pennachetti refused to directly answer reporters' questions about what would happen if protesters refuse to leave.
"I am asking the protesters to comply with this ruling and leave peacefully," said Ford.
CBC's Toronto city hall reporter Jamie Strashin said the ruling means the city has the legal authority to immediately remove the tents, but said it is unlikely this will happen.
He said there is a debate going on amongst members of city council. Some feel the park should be cleared right away, while others feel the dialogue between protesters and city officials should continue.
As of noon Monday, the city had no stated plan of action should the protesters refuse to leave, Strashin reported.
The Toronto protest is part of a global Occupy movement that has staged similar encampments and peaceful protests in other cities.
The movement has a handful of stated political goals, among them a need to address economic inequality.
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