VICTORIA — Dozens of tents were removed or abandoned Saturday morning at the Occupy encampment in Victoria as protesters faced an eviction deadline, police said.
Officers sent to Centennial Square to check on the demonstrators said they found most obeyed a court order issued Friday that said the camp had to be taken down by 7 a.m. local time.
“There’s a couple dozen tents that have already been removed and gone,” and another dozen or so have been abandoned, said Insp. Andrew Lacon.
The camp, which once held some 70 tents, was down to about 12 by the deadline, he said.
Protesters holding their ground won’t be forced to leave, he added.
“We’re not removing people’s tents at this point, we’re just cleaning up any of the garbage that may be here,” he said.
The city needs to return to court for an enforcement order if protesters don’t pack up.
The Occupy movement has been decrying corporate greed and aims to highlight the concentration of the world’s wealth in the hands of very few. It began in Manhattan with Occupy Wall Street and crossed the border into Canada on Oct. 15, when encampments were set up in cities across the country.
After more than a month of tents in parks and squares, many cities have begun dismantling the encampments citing broken bylaws and security risks.
Occupy camps in Halifax, Regina and Saskatoon have been taken down while protesters in Calgary, Toronto, Victoria and Vancouver are dealing with eviction notices.
In Occupy Victoria’s case, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Terence Schultes said Friday that freedom-of-speech arguments just weren’t strong enough to trump the city’s enforcement of its bylaws.
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said he was pleased with the ruling because the tone of the protest had shifted from its original purpose.
“A criminal element (has) come in that it’s really almost hijacked,” he said. “Those rising concerns of safety and public health really created a situation where it’s not compatible for other community events.”
Meanwhile, protesters in Vancouver also received an order to pack up Friday night, with a deadline of 2 p.m. Monday. Police have been granted power to enforce that order.
B.C. Supreme Court judge Anne MacKenzie agreed with city lawyers who argued the protesters camped outside the Vancouver Art Gallery are trespassing on city land.
Lawyers for the protesters had argued the camp should stay because its tents were integral to free speech and assembly. But MacKenzie said that argument was outside the scope of her hearing.
“I find the city has established a clear breach of its bylaws,” MacKenzie said. “I find the city would have irrevocable harm if they were refused.”
The protests themselves can continue, but those taking part can’t continue to camp on the site.
In Toronto, lawyers for the Occupy movement in the city have made similar free-speech arguments in Ontario Superior Court, calling the encampment in a downtown park “an exercise of conscience.”
Like Victoria and Vancouver, the City of Toronto says the protesters are trespassing, violating bylaws and infringing the rights of other park users.
Justice David Brown will issue his ruling on the matter Monday morning, but has taken issue with the protesters’ use of the term “eviction.”
He said bylaws need to be followed and pointed out that the park was still available for political expression, but that could be accomplished without tents and during the day.
Those with the Occupy Toronto movement have said they plan to stand their ground.