City workers began clearing debris from the Occupy Victoria site Friday, hours after the BC Supreme Court granted an injunction against the encampment.
With their tent kitchen and other structures gone, only a few protesters remained with the intent of defying the injunction.
Mayor Dean Fortin said any unoccupied tents will be cleared away Saturday morning, but the city will simply wait until Monday to seek an enforcement order before forcing anyone to leave.
“We did this in a peaceful, pragmatic way,” Mr. Fortin said in an interview from his City Hall office, with its glass wall adjacent to the Occupy camp on Centennial Square. "Giving someone a $75 ticket isn't going to force compliance."
He said he is hopeful the remaining campers will leave without a confrontation, making way for Christmas events that have been planned for months.
"The city has an obligation to manage for the greater good."
Justice Terence Schultes ruled Friday that the square must be vacated by 7 a.m. on Saturday. However the judge refused to provide an immediate enforcement order, saying the demonstrators had shown “a praiseworthy degree of responsiveness to the concerns of the city” and should be given a chance to comply.
Joseph Reville, who has been living at Occupy Victoria since the protest began Oct. 15, said he would not leave until he has been arrested. “The judge kind of took our side, gave us a soap box,” he said. His yellow tent was one of half a dozen clustered on one side of the square, a consolidation of those who intend to remain until they are forced out, he said. “We have to keep this going.”
A few other tents remained scattered around the square on Friday afternoon, but the encampment's main structures are gone.
The city went to court to enforce a bylaw that limits camping in public parks, arguing that the month-old protest is now threatening to interfere with seasonal events including the Santa Clause parade and an outdoor skating rink.
“This is not, as the respondents would have it, a case of the court validating the (city’s) preference for mundane holiday celebrations geared to promoting downtown business over an impassioned fight for social justice,” Justice Schultes said in his oral reasons. “It is about upholding the ability of a government to act and exercise its authority to allocate public space.”
Even with the remaining tents in place, Ken Kelly of the Downtown Victoria Business Association was pacing around the square with a tape measure, working out what can still be done to decorate the square for Christmas. The association has paid for the outdoor skating rink, which arrives Monday, and still hopes to install Christmas lights on the remaining mature trees around the square.
“We had spectacular plans, but we are so far behind schedule. It’s stacked against us now,” he said. The square is to be the center of the city’s holiday events which begin on Nov. 26 with the annual Santa parade.
Rajinder Sahota, the lawyer representing several Occupy protestors argued that the camping bylaw infringed their Constitutional right to freedom of expression, but the judge said that question would have to be addressed in a higher court.
Justice Schultes concluded the city is within its rights to manage public spaces in the pubic interest.
He said the city “should be free to come to the conclusion that any encampment, wherever and however situated in the square, is not in keeping with the best public use of that space.”
The Occupy Victoria camp is ready to break up anyway, said Anushka Nagji, a law student who had legal counsel represent the Occupy movement in court.
"We are moving out," she told reporters outside the courthouse. "I don't think this is the hill to die on." Ms. Nagji said the winter weather alone is reason enough to find other venues to carry on the Occupy movement.
However she said she cannot speak for all the campers. “There might be some that choose to stay, and power to them.”