POLITICS

Occupy protesters in Halifax feel vindicated after Crown withdraws charges

05/09/2012 04:26 EDT | Updated 07/09/2012 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - Occupy Nova Scotia protesters said they felt vindicated Wednesday after the Crown dropped all charges against the demonstrators, who were forcibly removed by police from a Halifax park last fall.

Eleven protesters were charged with obstruction of justice after officers moved into Victoria Park on Remembrance Day and dismantled the group's tents.

The prosecutor in the case said the charges were withdrawn Wednesday after a careful review of the evidence.

"I concluded there was no realistic prospect of conviction in these particular cases," Rick Woodburn said in an interview.

Woodburn declined to elaborate, saying it would be unfair to the protesters or the court to rehash evidence now that the charges have been dropped.

One of the 11 protesters who was also accused of breaching a court order had that charge withdrawn, as well.

Protesters involved in the month-long demonstration issued a statement saying they felt vindicated by the Crown's decision.

"We did not deserve what happened nor having to be dragged through the legal system for six months," said John Thibeau, one of the protesters who was charged.

Another one of the accused, James Wiseman, said leaving the courtroom Wednesday "almost felt surreal."

Police who tore down the tents were acting on a municipal bylaw that prohibits overnight camping in a public park.

The group moved into Victoria Park after protesting for weeks at Grand Parade in order to make room for Remembrance Day ceremonies at the public square in front of city hall.

Demonstrators said they were protesting peacefully and were caught off-guard when police officers moved into the park and tore down their tents during a torrential downpour. Some accused the police of using unnecessary violence.

Halifax Regional Police said the protesters were arrested for allegedly resisting officers during the eviction. The department has also said it has no concerns about the actions of its officers.

The protesters said Wednesday the withdrawal of the charges could lead to potential legal action against the municipality, though no formal decision has been made.

Woodburn said after reviewing the evidence, he determined that the police conducted a "thorough and professional investigation, and had the reasonable and probable grounds to lay the charges in the first place."

The international Occupy movement, which began last year in New York City, protests the excessive concentration of wealth and the growing income gap between rich and poor citizens.