November 15, 2011
Occupy Toronto protesters are planning to stay put for the time being, despite eviction notices handed out by the city earlier on Tuesday.
After a lengthy general assembly meeting Tuesday afternoon, occupiers decided not only to stay put, but to invite more supporters to come down and help them “defend” the camp from possible police intervention.
Some members suggested throwing a party, but that proposal was voted down after other expressed concerns about the optics of such an event.
The eviction notices came just hours after the forced removal of the New York camp where the Occupy movement first took root and on the same day Occupy Calgary protesters have been told they have 24 hours to remove their tents.
At a Tuesday press conference, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday lauded the “great restraint” exercised by city staff and Mayor Rob Ford in dealing with occupiers.
“We’re still hoping the majority of people will leave, and there won’t be any violence down there and there won’t be any arrests. And I know that’s probably a tall order, but that’s what we’re hoping for,” he said. “I think they should recognize that it’s over.”
The shutdown operation involves an array of individuals, from social workers to parks officials, from bureaucrats in the city manager’s officer to police officers and firefighters.
Councillor Norm Kelly said the city is asking protesters to leave the park now, but the notice is “enforceable” at 12:01 a.m. But the city says that does not amount to a deadline, since technically occupiers have been violating bylaws for more than thirty days, and it wants to give people a reasonable amount of time to exit.
Mayor Ford was at meetings and unable to attend the press conference.
Deputy Mayor Holyday said Mayor Ford has been “quite concerned” about the protest and wishes it to end peacefully. “Unfortunately things happen when it’s not necessarily convenient for him to be in his office,” said Mr. Holyday.
Eleven predominantly left-leaning city councillors have signed a letter addressed to the mayor and city manager Joe Pennachetti demanding the city take no further action on the eviction until the matter is discussed at a city council meeting on November 29 and 30th. “This is a complex situation that needs a full airing at City Council,” the group argues.
Councillor Pam McConnell, the local city councillor, said she had hoped the city would proceed with a team of officials who would talk directly to protesters and work towards an exit strategy. As far as she knew, such a team had been assembled late last week, but something obviously changed in the ensuing days, said Ms. McConnell, who was trying to “de-escalate” the situation, and “save my neighbourhood.”
“It seemed to me that until we had that on-the-ground, proactive, problem-solving city team, we shouldn’t be taking the next step of legal action because it jeopardizes the peace of the park, and it could cause a riot in the neighbourhood,” said Ms. McConnell.
A representative from Occupy Toronto said a lawyer is in court seeking an injunction to stop the eviction. The representative would not identify the lawyer.
Some protesters consider moving to Nathan Phillips Square
Earlier, Stefonknee Wolscht, who deals with logistics for the camp, said protesters were being advised to pack up their tents and move to Nathan Phillips Square.
Other equipment, including the medical and media tents, were being moved from the park onto adjacent church property, where occupiers believe they are allowed to remain.
“As long as we get anything off
She said protesters were operating under the assumption that they could remain in the park after midnight, so long as the tents were dismantled.
“I’m not leaving here,” said Antonin Smith. “If I get arrested, I’ll come right back.”
“We don’t want to see a repeat of Wall Street,” said Taylor Chelsea. “We’re not leaving. We’re not going anywhere,” said Ryan Ansell.
As bylaw officers and police moved through the park, protesters blew whistles and beat drums.
The reaction at City Hall
City Hall was divided on whether it was time to evict the occupiers.
“I think it’s time to bring this matter to a head,” said Councillor Michael Thompson, a member of the Mayor’s executive. “There is no point in dragging it on, I think the group had a chance to express their views and concerns andI think we’ve all taken notice.”
“I think the public has been very patient and we’ve given them an opportunity to say whatever they needed to say. Many people don’t understand what they have to say and they actually don’t have any focused message,” said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, another Ford ally. “This is a park, not a campground.”
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, a left-leaning councillor, says the protest has been peaceful to date, and she believes the city has not exhausted other possible resolutions. “I don’t believe we’ve actually had a meaningful dialogue with the residents from the park. Any type of action that uses force is definitely premature,” she said. “We could be infringing on people’s civil liberties.”
Councillor Gord Perks, a Ford critic, says that Canadian courts have ruled that the right to assembly sometimes trumps trespassing laws. “As far as I can tell no law has been broken there that has anything to do with creating any dangerous circumstance for anyone in Toronto. If no one is in danger I think we should let the protest continue.”
Councillor Josh Matlow, who was on hand to visit the protest site when he learned of the eviction notices, cautioned the city against acting hastily.
“Obviously the protesters can’t stay here forever but their behaviour so far has been peaceful,” he said.
The outcome in other cities such as New York is “cause for concern” about the possibility of police moving in on Tuesday night, Mr. Matlow said, noting the city should provide occupiers “a reasonable amount of time” to end the camp peacefully.
Letter from city manager to protesters
A letter handed out from city manager Joe Pennachetti with the eviction notice read:
“The purpose of this letter is to advise all those who are occupying St. James Park that the time has come to remove your tents, structures, equipment and personal belongings from the park. The city recognizes the rights of Canadians to gather and protest. However, the City has determined that it cannot allow the current use of St. James Park to continue. In particular, the City can no longer permit the appropriation of St. James Park by a relatively small group of people to the exclusion of all others wishing to use the park and to the detriment of those wishing to use the park. In addition, the current use of the park by Occupy Toronto and others occupying St. James Park is causing damage to the park and interfering with necessary winter maintenance of the park.”
The letter continues: “The City directs that all persons who are occupying St. James Park…immediately discontinue use of the park between 12:01 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.”
Eviction notice follows arrest on Tuesday morning
Earlier on Tuesday, at least one member of the Occupy Toronto group was arrested during a protest march in the city’s downtown core.
Police confirmed the individual was arrested in the area of Yonge and King streets, but could not immediately provide information on what led to the arrest.
Constable Victor Kwong said the group of protesters were having “internal issues” earlier in the morning, spurring them to split up into two factions. “Some of them decided to continue the march… One person was arrested,” Const. Kwong confirmed.
Occupiers suggested two people had been arrested, but police could not confirm a second arrest.
Eli Krapivnik, a member of the Occupy Toronto group, said one man was arrested after a flag he was holding got near vehicles on the street. A police officer “pulled him by the shoulder” then tackled him when the man attempted to resist, Mr. Krapivnik said.
Another member of the Occupy Toronto group said the camp was moving into a “red alert,” and transporting some supplies from the park to the church that adjoins it. One woman described this as a safety measure in case police moved in on the camp.
Should the city follow through on plans to evict the group, “there would be a lot of people going to jail,” said demonstrator Andrew Logan MacKellar.
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