NEWS

St-Henri squatters camp out for 5th night

06/05/2013 09:25 EDT | Updated 08/05/2013 05:12 EDT
A group of about 30 squatters who have taken over a vacant lot in St-Henri are spending their fifth straight night camped out at the site, despite fears that Montreal police are planning to evict them.

What began as a protest for more affordable housing has become a tent city, reminiscent of the Occupy movement last year.

Montreal businessman Peter Sergakis owns the lot at the corner of Notre-Dame Street West and St-Philippe Street. He initially said he'd tolerated the protest but now wants the squatters out.

“We’re in a democratic country, but I think enough is enough after three, four days," he said early Wednesday.

Sergakis asked police to evict the squatters Wednesday, but police haven't acted yet and won't say what their plans are.

Community organizer Fred Burrill — the one and only protester willing to talk to CBC News over the past two days — said the encampment is the only way to get the city to pay attention to their demands.

"In St-Henri there have been more than 2,000 condo units constructed since 2005, as opposed to about 140-odd social housing units," Burrill said. "People are making choices every day between paying their rent for the month and eating three times a day."

"It's unacceptable, we just can't continue. We've been forced into this action, and we'll continue until we get a response."

Reporters and camera operators have been harassed and even threatened for simply approaching the site.

"The mass media has not played a particularly friendly role to this type of political action," Burrill explained. "So it's quite understandable that people would not see the mass media as an ally."

Burrill says the group has not decided how long they will stay — nor how they will react if police try to evict them.

Earlier Wednesday, Sgt. Laurent Gingras of the Montreal police said they hadn't had any notable problems with the squatters, but that it was unsafe for them to stay there.

"Obviously, it's a vacant lot, there shouldn't be anybody living there. They don't have any toilets, running water, so it's complicated," he said.

Meanwhile, Sergakis said he didn’t understand what was wrong with "professionals" moving in and improving the neighbourhood’s reputation and image.

“St-Henri, the last 40 years, it was full of criminal activity,” he said.

“What is wrong, in 2013, with professionals moving in, buying condos and upgrading the area?”

He wants the squatters off his property because of noise complaints from neighbours and for insurance purposes, he said.

“If someone gets hurt on private property, the owner is responsible.”

He said the vacant lot will be developed as residential and commercial space in the next year.

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