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Clashes between Toronto, Vancouver officials and Occupy groups come to a head

Posted by on 12/08/2018

It could be a day of reckoning for protesters in two of the largest Occupy encampments in the country, with protesters in Vancouver facing a court-imposed deadline to leave and activists in Toronto waiting to learn whether they will face a similar fate.

A court ruling from last week gave demonstrators in Vancouver until 2 p.m. on Monday to clear their encampment, which has covered the lawn of the city’s downtown art gallery for more than a month. Some campers have already packed up and left, while others have vowed to stay.

Toronto’s city hall has asked for a similar injunction to clear St. James Park, located a few blocks east of the city’s financial centre on Bay Street. A judge was expected to decide Monday morning whether the campers must go.

If those efforts are successful, protesters in Vancouver and Toronto could become the latest to be disbanded, as cities in Canada and the United States become more willing to use the courts and police to dismantle the makeshift encampments that have come to define the movement.

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In Vancouver, campers began dismantling a handful of tents and other structures on Sunday, but that was expected to ramp up by Monday morning. The official Occupy Vancouver account on Twitter called for volunteers to help pack up and clean the site.

“The majority of people here are not interested in getting into violence. We are a peaceful occupation, and therefore we don’t want to antagonize the police, who now have a B.C. Supreme Court injunction in their favour,” protester Suresh Fernando said Sunday afternoon, shortly before a moving truck arrived to cart away tents and other supplies.

“What some of us are doing is just make sure that we educate people, so that people understand the consequences. … Some people will be staying.”

The city sought an injunction demanding the tents be removed, and an order giving police the power to enforce that injunction. The B.C. Supreme Court granted both.

The camp has faced increased scrutiny in recent weeks, particularly after a fatal drug overdose earlier this month that left a 23-year-old woman dead. It also surfaced in Vancouver’s mayoralty campaign that returned Mayor Gregor Robertson to power on Saturday.

Occupy protesters in Toronto spent the weekend awaiting a decision from an Ontario Superior Court judge, who was asked by the city to order the tents out of St. James Park.

The group argued its case in court on Friday, with lawyer Susan Ursel calling the encampment “an exercise of conscience.”

The city argued the tent village amounts to trespassing and prevents others in the community from using the park.

Judge David Brown was to issue his ruling Monday at 9 a.m.

Many at the camp have vowed to stay, regardless of the court’s decision.

“I’m not going to leave; I’m going to stay,” said Joshua Hunter, who calls the tent village his home.

“They can try to attack my constitutional rights because of a bylaw. … That’s completely, blatantly wrong in my eyes.”

On Sunday, some of the Toronto protesters pleaded with the neighbouring St. James Cathedral to let them retreat on church land if police come to clear the camp.

Speaking at a news conference, one demonstrator said she worried church officials would bow down to pressure from the city.

The church owns land adjacent to the park, but church leaders have said they wouldn’t interfere with the court’s decision.

Occupy camps were erected in several Canadian cities on Oct. 15 to highlight the concentration of the world’s wealth in the hands of very few.

They were modelled after New York’s Occupy Wall Street camp, which filled Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park until a nighttime police raid last week. A New York judge later upheld the eviction.

Occupy encampments across Canada have seen their numbers fall in recent weeks in the face of mounting opposition from municipal governments.

Camps in London, Ont., and Saskatoon have already been cleared.

The Occupy Nova Scotia demonstration in Halifax was dismantled on Remembrance Day after police took down tents in a downtown park and arrested a few protesters. The protesters had relocated from their original location, the city’s Grand Parade Square, to make room for the annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the square’s cenotaph.

Only a few tents remained at the Occupy Victoria site on weekend. Most of the group chose to obey a court order calling for them to clear the camp.

A small group of hardy protesters set up in between office towers in Edmonton have been asked to leave by the property’s owners, a local development company.

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