TORONTO - The city will soon be asking scores of protesters who have occupied a downtown park for a month to leave peacefully, Mayor Rob Ford said Monday, adding he is taking a threat of cyber-retaliation seriously.
Ford did not give a date for when Occupy Toronto would have to leave St. James Park.
"It’s going to happen soon," Ford said.
"It's been a peaceful protest, and I'm sure they'll leave peacefully."
Ford gave no details other than to say the city would hand out notices to the protesters, who have set up dozens of sleeping tents along with a library, media centre and medical facility in the shadow of St. James Cathedral.
The mayor said last week that businesses and taxpayers had been complaining about the protest against corporate greed spawned by the Occupy Wall Street movement two months ago.
He said he would be seeking a meeting with police Chief Bill Blair to discuss the situation.
His comments sparked a videotaped threat over the weekend from the shadowy group Anonymous that it would disrupt the city's website if officials tried to evict the "brave" protesters.
"We will not let the city or the mayor that uses vulgar language in public get involved," the group said. "We have already planned for this."
Ford said he took the Anonymous threat seriously. At the same time, he was not worried about an attack on the city's computer system.
"We've talked to our IT people and they feel very confident that it's secure."
Other cities, such as Halifax, London, Ont., and Saskatoon, have evicted their Occupy protesters. Groups in other cities, such as Vancouver, have remained defiant of requests or orders to leave.
For their part, the Toronto protesters said they would stay put, saying their occupation was not about simply making a point.
Their aim was "to bring about change," they said in a weekend statement.
"We are trying to address the inadequacies of the system in which we live and advocate for a better, more equitable society."
Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said Monday the city was still deciding on a course of action, and it remained unclear whether the courts would become involved.
So far, the city had made no formal request to police to move in, he said.
How things unfold if the protesters are asked or told to leave depends on their response, Pugash said.
"It's very much up to people as to how they behave or not," he said. "If they're asked to leave politely, one would hope they would respond politely."
While Ontario's premier has previously indicated the occupation was a municipal matter, the political opposition was split on how to deal with the protesters.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said he supported the mayor.
"People don't have a right to permanently occupy a public park," Hudak said. "If they won't go on their own, I think that you need to move to police action."
New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said the protesters should be allowed to stay put.
"I don't think that forcibly removing people from their right to protest and to have collective voice is the right thing to do," Horwath said.
"I don't it's something that requires all kinds of heavy police force."
Ford refused to visit the park to talk to protesters, saying he cannot condone an "illegal" occupation.
"Anybody wants to come here, I don’t mind meeting anyone but I can’t go down to the park," the mayor said.
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