A city showdown is looming with Occupy Vancouver, but not until after voters go to the polls Saturday to elect its mayor for the next three years.
On Friday afternoon, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Anne MacKenzie agreed to the city’s request for an injunction to clear the downtown site of tents and other structures, shortly after a three-day hearing ended. She set 2 p.m. Monday as the deadline for the encampment to be ended.
In case protesters do not comply, she authorized police to arrest those who resist. She expanded the order to allow surrounding municipal forces and the RCMP to be called in if Vancouver police need help clearing the site.
The encampment at the Vancouver Art Gallery dominated the final weeks of the city’s bitter mayoral race between incumbent Gregor Robertson and challenger Suzanne Anton, who said the camp should never have been allowed in the first place.
Now, with Judge MacKenzie’s ruling, voters will have already made their choice by the time authorities learn whether the court order will be obeyed.
Among protesters, there were tears outside the courtroom and defiance at the encampment.
“I am not moving from this land. I am not leaving these Art Gallery lands,” said one protester to cheers from a large crowd gathered at the site.
At the courthouse, Cherise Clarke wiped tears from her eyes after the injunction was issued. “I’m upset at my naivety in thinking that Vancouver could be the one place where the authorities would work with us and not use force,” she said.
In Victoria, meanwhile, a judge ordered campers out of Centennial Square by 7 a.m. Saturday, but stopped short of granting the city an enforcement order to remove non-compliant protesters. The demonstration in B.C.’s capital appears to be losing steam, with just over a dozen tents left Friday afternoon. Mayor Dean Fortin, whose office overlooks the camp, said city hall’s “peaceful and pragmatic” approach was working.
Toronto, for its part, hangs in the balance. Lawyers for both sides spent all Friday arguing in court. Judge David Brown is expected to issue a ruling Monday.
The city said that, if it wins, it will use bylaw enforcement officers, rather than police, to ticket protesters. But it may not be easy: Protesters have discussed organizing a mass demonstration to hold the park against any attempt to take down the encampment.
In Vancouver, Judge MacKenzie credited occupiers and civic authorities with working together at the site.
“It is highly desirable that co-operation and peacefulness continue to exist. But there may come a time when they may reasonably require the assistance of police,” she said.
Mayor Robertson said city staff will be at the camp over the weekend to help occupants find housing, if it’s required, help dismantle structures and clean up.
Lawyer Jason Gratl, representing one of the protesters, argued the tents were inseparable from the Occupy movement’s right to freedom of expression.
On the city side, lawyer Iain Dixon said there was a clear breach of Vancouver’s land use regulation bylaw, and the city had a right to make the public square available to all citizens.
In agreeing with the city, the judge said there were no exceptional circumstances that would justify refusing the injunction, and arguments on the bylaw’s constitutionality could be made later, at a more complete trial.
Earlier, Mr. Gratl had accused the city of using unsubstantiated smears and fear-mongering to paint a far worse picture of conditions at the encampment than was actually the case.
“This isn’t a dirty, squalid little squat. It’s quite a well-run, little ship.”
With reports from Ian Bailey, Aleksandra Sagan, Carys Mills and Justine Hunter