Occupy Toronto: Police-Led Eviction Begins At St. James Park
TORONTO - The symbolic centre of the Occupy movement's Canadian universe finally came apart Wednesday as authorities moved in to clear a downtown park, reducing a 39-day-old utopian protest encampment to a jumble of tarpaulins, tent poles and mud.
With garbage trucks poised to haul away the debris and busloads of baton-toting, armour-clad officers positioned nearby, the Toronto chapter of an international expression of dissent and disenchantment came to a peaceful and decidedly Canadian end.
The protest, which sprouted Oct. 15 on the doorstep of the city's financial district as part of a global expansion of similar occupations in the U.S., ended largely without incident, unlike many south of the border where violence has flared.
The end began with a massive show of force, when scores of police surrounded St. James Park east of Bay Street in the frosty pre-dawn darkness.
Some carried riot equipment, but did not don helmets or masks.
The sight of them appeared to come as a relief to the shrinking number of activists, who had spent almost two days waiting for authorities to move in on the camp.
"I wish it was over," said one forlorn young man. "I'm tired."
Police appeared determined not to provoke any clashes.
"Once all structures have been removed and the park has been rendered safe, St. James Park will be re-opened to the public," an officer bellowed over a public-address system.
"You will be free to continue to exercise your right to free speech."
Prof. Daniel Drache, a senior research fellow at the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies at York University, said both police and protesters were mindful of the violence and mass arrests at the G20 summit in Toronto in June 2010.
"The G20 was so terrible and the police received a black eye," Drache said.
"They realize that this kind of strong-arm method, exaggerated use of force, is not necessary."
While some protesters jeered, drummed or chanted, bylaw officers escorted by police went tent-to-tent, warning anyone inside to remove their belongings.
They numbered and photographed each structure before sanitation workers began taking down tents and pitching debris into garbage trucks.
Throughout the day, police allowed protesters time to take down their own tents and many did.
Eleven people were arrested for trespassing and later released, police said.
Still, despite some heated protester rhetoric in recent days, the interaction between police and demonstrators remained cordial, even courteous.
One offered officers tulips. Another made a point of shaking hands with police, thanking them for their restraint.
"That's a broader reflection of Canadian morals or cultural values," said Christopher Schneider, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia.
"Canadians tend to be relatively peaceful."
Schneider said social media sites have also made authorities and protesters aware their actions are being widely watched, and brute force or violence "sends a bad message" to the wider population.
Occupy Toronto protesters took over the downtown park Oct. 15 as part of the global movement decrying the growing gap between rich and poor.
From a handful of tents, St. James Park soon grew into a functioning mini-village that drew the wrath of some area residents and businesses who felt they could no longer use the park in peace.
On Monday, an Ontario Superior Court judge upheld a city eviction order, saying the protesters were trespassing and allowing them to stay would amount to supporting anarchy.
Mayor Rob Ford said he was pleased with how Wednesday's operation went, calling it "orderly and largely peaceful."
But if protesters set up at another site in the city, they will be asked to leave, Ford said.
"The protest is over and I'd like to keep it that way,'' he told a news conference.
As the downtown site was cleared, a handful of demonstrators tried to set up tents on grounds north of the Ontario legislature but police intervened quickly.
In Vancouver, police also moved in early Wednesday to dismantle a second Occupy site that sprang up after the initial site at the art gallery was deemed illegal and ordered removed.
In Ottawa, at least eight people were arrested early Wednesday when police entered Confederation Park to ask Occupy protesters to leave.
A spokesman for the Occupy Ottawa legal support committee said all but one person had been released with a $65 trespass ticket.
At the Occupy Montreal camp, tents sagged under the weight of snow as the city faced its first major storm of the season.
Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay, who until a few days ago was applauding the protesters, is now asking them to leave the tent-filled protest site in the heart of the city's financial district.
Letters were distributed late Wednesday informing the occupants that they had to pack up overnight.
It was not immediately clear whether the protesters would heed the demand. There was no sign of an immediate eviction and some protesters said they have received assurances that there would be no police action taken overnight.
Some protesters were seen earlier in a nearby metro station discussing what to do next. Organizers are planning a big demonstration on Saturday.
But municipal spokesman Gonzalo Nunez said the city's patience had run out and the period of tolerance has ended.
"The regulations apply immediately and fully."
Despite the end of the camps, protesters said the movement was far from dead.
"If they won't let us sleep here ... we'll go out to the public and come back with more people," said Adam Kuzmin as St. James Park was cleared.
"Maybe that will be more effective, because we'll be forced to be out of the park and spread the message that way."LIVE UPDATES:
What if the protesters go to another park?
"The protest is over and I'd like to keep it that way and if they go to another park we'll ask them to leave immediately," Mayor Rob Ford said.
Should taxpayers be on the hook for repairs?
"It's disturbing that taxpayers will be on the hook for this.... we don't know what the costs are right now"
"I've totally been occupied by Occupy Toronto today," the mayor joked.
"We wanted to facilitate this peacefully, and by and large this has happened."
"Clean-up should be completed by tonight."
Pennachetti also said that people will be able to pick up seized goods later and that the cost of repairs will be known later after city staff makes an assessment.
"This has been a massive undertaking with numerous city divisions working together."
Mayor Rob Ford begins press conference:
"Let me say I'm very, very pleased with the progress of the operation so far. It has been orderly and largely peaceful."
Mayor says he was briefed on the operation to remove Occupy Toronto.
The mayor also added that "members of Occupy Toronto have been largely peaceful in their protest and remain so today. Finally, I'd like to thank the citizens of Toronto, notably residents and businesses in the affected area. They have been very, very patient for the last month."
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is set to hold a press conference on today's successful eviction of Occupy Toronto from St. James Park.
Accoding to the Toronto Star:
|@ niamhsays : 11 people arrested so far, Drummond confirms. #OccupyToronto|
|@ thekeenanwire : All standoffs appear to be over. Last remaining structure being dismantled. Drummers still drumming. #OccupyTO|
|@ jpags : That brings today's total arrests to 9, Drummond confirms.|
Most of them were charged with trespassing. Many released soon after being detained.
Media reports said a third person has been arrested.
|@ niamhsays : Guy who was on library roof has been arrested. He had a gas mask on him. Loaded into van. http://t.co/g3LTfU0E|
|@ jpags : I count 8 protesters seated inside gazebo as boards around them are removed. Woman arrested earlier at fire back and clanging bowl|
The gazebo and the library are emerging as the last few areas of resistance to police.
|@ niamhsays : To recap: protestors still staking out gazebo, one protestor standing atop library, halting deconstruction. City staff cleaning park.|
|@ shawnmicallef : Back at the books. "We saved the books we saved the yurt no one got hurt" is chant. http://t.co/cnqzTdlc|
|@ jpags : Gazebo protester says those occupying gazebo are cleaning up. He tells @BKennedyStar he's facilitating process.|
Police trying to come to an agreement on the gazebo. Protesters have created a barricade in the structure.
Police and the Occupy Toronto protesters have reached an agreement on the library yurt.
The police will be "leaving the library alone, and allow others to move the books," said police spokesman Gary Meissner at a Wednesday afternoon press conference at the park.
"I want to thank the Toronto Police. This could've ended badly," said Ian Smart, spokesman for Occupy Toronto. "I view this as a win for the Occupy movement. The books are being moved, the library is still going to exist and no one got hurt," Smart said.
|@ TuThanhHa : Sure enuf, having disposed of those in native tent, police now formed cordon around those holding up in gazebo #OccupyTO|
|@ shawnmicallef : Sound of garbage truck smushing so loud as fortified library yurt figure out how to remove books. Human chain disbanded http://t.co/LcDobizu|
|@ JProskowGlobal : Arrests in progress. Occupiers holed up inside tent|
|@ JProskowGlobal : Police raid tent. Arrests in progress. http://t.co/JbfZfnEz|
Protesters had scheduled a general assembly for noon. According to reports it will be starting soon.
HuffPost Canada blogger Daniel Portoraro spent the night at Occupy Toronto:From his blog:
As 4 a.m. loomed closer, there was a rising sense of expectancy, and a palpable excitement that the cops might finally be coming. At 3:50 a.m. there were verbal reports that four black SUVs had gathered outside of the protest site. Less than an hour later, CP24 tweeted that there was a heavy police presence at Parliament and Wellesley. The excitement among the protesters mobilized: Another staple of the movement, a man with longish blonde hair who looked to be in his late 20s or so, wearing a bowler hat, turned to one of the other protesters with his arms spread wide.
"Are you ready?" he asked, and went in for a hug.
|@ ivortossell : Flags from OSSTF, Catholic Teachers unions. PSAC. Hundreds, looks like. Police form up into cordons now.|
|@ shawnmicallef : Police have formed perimeter around tents near St James Cathedral. http://t.co/tARSWrFS|
|@ jpags : I count six people still barricaded into gazebo. Can hear shake of spray paint inside. Probably making more of these: http://t.co/SlJmzsMj|
|@ nowtoronto : Retreat. Regroup. Reoccupy the siren call right now. #OccupyTO Albeit a muted one.|
|@ CP24 : The woman who was arrested during #OccupyTO eviction has been released from custody.|
|@ jpags : Protesters are singing "give peace a chance" then opening to "Imagine" around area where crowd formed protesting today's first arrest|
A woman has been arrested and charged with trespassing according to the CBC. Police say she'll likely be released later.
Live footage of the removal of the woman seemed very orderly. Lots of media, cameras. But there was no violence. Police searched woman, led her into court services van.