POLITICS

Occupy Montreal Eviction: Police Start Dismantling Camp

11/25/2011 09:24 EST | Updated 01/25/2012 05:12 EST
MONTREAL - What took nearly six weeks to build came down in a single morning as authorities moved in and dismantled two of Canada's last remaining Occupy camps.

A sprawling camp in Montreal and a smaller one in Edmonton fell Friday, within days of closures in some of Canada's biggest cities including Vancouver and Toronto.

In Montreal, police and city workers moved in early Friday to evict protesters and clean up an urban campsite which at its peak housed several hundred people.

City employees spent a good part of the day loading dump trucks full of makeshift tarp tents, debris and other items left behind by campers.

About mid-week, the city began handing out notices that it intended to enforce a bylaw requiring a square in the financial district to be cleared at night.

Some protesters fearing sudden eviction had already started gathering their belongings earlier this week and others simply left after the mayor urged them to move out.

Sixteen people were detained briefly by Montreal police during a peaceful demonstration. Most had barricaded themselves inside the camp's kitchen tent, using rope to bind themselves together.

In Edmonton, three people were arrested for trespassing as police moved in to put an end to an encampment at a downtown city park owned by the Melcor development firm.

Officers converged on the Jasper Avenue site just before 4 a.m. to enforce an eviction notice.

The company said in a statement that it was opposed to the occupation of its property and had set minimum safety standards that were not met. It said authorities were called dozens of times during the nearly six-week occupation.

"It is our belief that the leaders of Occupy Edmonton have placed many of its members and citizens of Edmonton in danger as a result of unsafe conditions on the site," the company said.

Demonstrator Bill Thomas was among the three men arrested and fined at the park.

He said he was tending a fire at a military-style tent when police showed up without warning. Thomas said he was told he would be arrested if he refused to leave.

"I told them that I refused to leave,'' Thomas said.

''I was then taken out of the tent and read my rights by an officer, then read a statement by a Melcor rep about trespassing on property. I was then put in handcuffs and led to a van where I was left for 20 minutes."

There was an unusual incident in Montreal involving one protester dressed like a superhero.

A man wearing a Batman costume was among those detained by police after rushing back towards the camp. One of his fellow protesters said he simply wanted to hug a police officer.

The man was released without charges, as were all 16 of the people detained in Montreal.

The operation wrapped up peacefully around noon, as police left about a dozen activists occupying a sidewalk. The genteel nature of the day's events were illustrated by one protester who showed up with flowers for police officers.

Deputy police chief Pierre Brochet said those people who were detained were simply transported off site and ushered onto the subway.

Brochet said police didn't find any weapons at the camp or any drugs, but that there were security concerns. Police will keep watch over the area.

"If they want to come back to protest and to be in the park and respect the rules, that's not a problem," Brochet said.

"But we won't let them install anymore tents, so they can come back to protest but, at night, it's going to be closed."

Not everyone was happy with the police operation, even if it had been expected.

"I grabbed most of my stuff yesterday (Thursday) but then we were coming back today (Friday) to grab the rest and I came here and my tent was destroyed," said protester Domenic Massey-Sansalone, who pitched his tent on the first day, Oct. 15.

"I worked hard for that and they tore it down."

Protesters vowed the movement was far from over and declared a victory for having managed to stay for so long.

"We've already had talks about occupying other spots and doing some actions and big marches," said Massey-Sansalone.

"They might take away our ground zero, our HQ, but it'll live on. We'll have more spots."

Another Montreal protester said the best thing for the movement was to allow the camp dismantling to proceed peacefully.

"I'd say that, for this to end nicely, it should end in peace — without scuffles, without violence,'' said an artist who identified himself as Jazz.

''If that happens, I'd say we've won Game One."

Mayor Gerald Tremblay had supported protests until last weekend, when reports of scuffles and drug use on the site appeared to trigger an instant policy shift.

The shutdowns follow similar action by police in a number of other Canadian cities in recent days.

Occupy camps in Vancouver, Toronto, Quebec City and elsewhere were removed earlier.

The Occupy movement gained steam in September when demonstrators began protesting on Wall Street.

The movement, inspired by Canadian anti-corporate magazine Adbusters, quickly began to spread from New York City to other U.S. cities, across Canada and to Europe.

About a dozen protesters still camped at Calgary's downtown Olympic Plaza are facing a court injunction, requiring them to be in court Dec. 2 to determine if they can stay at the site.

Also Friday, a tent at the Occupy Winnipeg protest site burned to the ground, sparking concerns among some protesters the incident may be used as an excuse to evict those who remain at Memorial Park.

Winnipeg police said there were no reports of injuries. Both the province and the city have said they have no plans to evict the protesters.

-With files from Ken Trimble in Edmonton.