11/23/2011 06:11 EST | Updated 01/23/2012 05:12 EST

Occupy Toronto: Police-Led Eviction Begins At St. James Park

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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."

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