UPDATE: More protesters began arriving just before noon. A police officer put the number at 1,200, but to me it seemed more like 400. The tents had already begun folding like houses of cards, mostly at the hands of city workers.
While the police continued to go about their job telling the protesters to leave, the mood of the Occupy camp grew angrier and more insulting towards the officers. Some shouted, "Cowards!" while others called them less printable names. At one point, the police were trying to help a municipal truck remove garbage pulled from the camp. Protesters surrounded the escorting officers and began to sing, trying to block the truck.
Suddenly the crowd began chanting, "Let her go! Let her go!" The first arrest had been made: Police were carrying away a young woman who had been in the way of the truck. (She was released from custody shortly afterwards.)
Now a human wall of police officers has formed between a tent holding the so-called "sacred fire" and the protesters. One of the occupiers chained himself just outside the entrance to the tent, with a bunch of heavy pieces of wood placed perilously above him. This was this man's effort to prevent city workers from removing the tent. One wrong move by anyone and the wood could fall, causing injury.
The chants of "This is what democracy looks like..." continue...
I arrived at St. James park Tuesday night at 11 p.m. The Occupy Toronto Twitter feed sent an alert that a mass of police officers was nearby. This piece of information, like so many others emanating from the Twitter feed, later proved to be wrong. But it did create the feeling amongst us of standing in an open field, surrounded by snipers we could not see.
A freezing rain had already begun to pelt down on the protesters, who numbered less than 100 by this point. In general the camp felt quite barren. The night before there had been maybe 300 or more when I'd come by, waiting for the rumoured eviction that was to take place but did not materialize. Last night I asked one of the protesters standing outside the media tent why there were so few people there. He replied, "People don't think anything is going to happen."
The freezing rain grew heavier. I huddled up in the press yurt with about 30 other people or so, most of them reporters from alternative media. Outside, in the park's gazebo, there were protesters dancing and chanting and playing music -- they did this all night, until around 5 a.m. I suspect many of them were fuelled by stimulants other than just the adrenalin of the moment.
At 3:30 a.m. one of the staple members of Occupy Toronto, a middle-aged cross-dresser by the name of Sarah, warned the others in the yurt: "Anyone who is going to be arrested tonight should be dry before going out. It's cold in a cell."
As 4 a.m. loomed closer, there was a rising sense of expectancy, and a palpable excitement that the cops might finally be coming. At 3:50 a.m. there were verbal reports that four black SUVs had gathered outside of the protest site. Less than an hour later, CP24 tweeted that there was a heavy police presence at Parliament and Wellesley. The excitement among the protesters mobilized: Another staple of the movement, a man with longish blonde hair who looked to be in his late 20s or so, wearing a bowler hat, turned to one of the other protesters with his arms spread wide.
"Are you ready?" he asked, and went in for a hug.
By 5:30 a.m., the mainstream media began arriving in droves: Cameras, microphones, reporters in rubber hunter boots and fur-lined parkas. By 6 a.m., the number of protesters on site had nearly doubled; clearly they'd gotten the word too. They milled about, checking their Twitter feeds. The rain stopped.
Suddenly we heard the sound of approaching sirens. I watched three squad cars pull up on Jarvis alongside the park. Within minutes so many squad cars and others police vehicles began arriving, I could no longer keep count. There were vans, command trucks, tow trucks, and even bicycles. Huge tour buses arrived and disgorged not tourists but black-clad officers. They were not wearing riot gear. Civilian vehicles were towed to make way for the police.
The officers began to surround the perimeter, along Jarvis and King, effectively penning in the protesters like sheep. They made an announcement over loud speakers: "We need you to vacate... Take down your tents... We want to do this in a peaceful manner... This in accordance of the Supreme Court ruling of November 21... If you require shelter or assistance, public housing will be offered to you at 57 Adelaide Street West... We want to make the park safe for everybody..."
Several protesters yelled back, "The park's been safe for 40 days."
A wiry old man, clearly suffering from mental issues, barged to the front of the crowd and shouted, "Let the police do their job!"
Some Occupiers began teasing him, saying "Look it's Mayor Rob Ford himself!" while others became enraged by the man's comments; someone tripped him. The old man got back up and began shouting at them again.
While this was happening, there was a short, soft-spoken youngish man, in his mid-20s, holding a megaphone. He proceeded to walk up to each of the officers and say, "Good morning." Various protesters opened their Flip cams and began recording the officers' names and badges.
When, after a quarter hour or so, none of the protesters had made a motion to vacate, the police began entering the park, and moved towards the tents. Very quickly they were subsumed amongst the protesters but everything remained peaceful. There was no pushing or shoving. I watched officers walk up to individual tents and tap on their door flaps to see if anyone was inside. If no one was inside, the officers used spray paint to mark the ground in front of the tent -- this indicated that the police were unable to locate the tenant of the tent -- before moving on to the next. Most of the tents were empty.
Then the officers came across a medium-sized tent -- one that might sleep four. They tapped on the tent; suddenly its occupant emerged. He looked like the Wolfman or maybe a shorter, scruffier Jesus: Long straggly brown hair, barefoot, wearing pants cut from an organic cloth. He demanded "a piece of paper" -- meaning an eviction notice -- from the police after he was told to take down his tent.
An officer replied that the man had already been given his eviction notice last week. The protester was given an hour to take down his tent. The man replied he couldn't take his tent down before it had dried. The officer firmly, but still politely, insisted the tent needed to be down within the hour, and turned to go.
Mini-Jesus chased after the officers, shouting "Are you HUMAN?! Do you have KIDS?"
The media immediately closed in to capture this iconic photo of a hippy shouting at police.
A few of the protesters began striking their tents. City workers -- who were very much of the 99 per cent class -- moved in to take down the other tents. As they did so, Occupiers yelled: "Aren't you ashamed of yourselves?!"
I asked one of the workers, a middle-aged guy, how he felt about the insults. His lips twitched and trembled before he replied, "I'd rather not comment."
Daniel Portoraro will be live blogging all day from the Occupy Toronto site.