One month into a wave of Occupy encampments across the country, big-city mayors continue to grapple with how to get protesters to pack up and leave.
Though poles apart politically, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson have taken surprisingly similar positions, calling for an end to the encampments but shying, so far, from sending in police to do the job.
“We are asking them to leave the park and take it from there,” Mr. Ford said Monday. “I’m sure they will leave peacefully.”
In Vancouver, where political stakes are sky high given Saturday’s municipal elections, Mr. Robertson nonetheless echoed Mr. Ford’s non-confrontational approach, saying the city wants the downtown occupation to end “without there being violence and conflict on the site.”
Their reluctance to use force, even as the public grows increasingly irritated by the tent cities, indicates the difficulty of managing a trouble-free dismantling of the encampments, which began as part of a world-wide, widely supported protest against economic inequality.
Vancouver has gone further than Toronto by seeking a court injunction to clear the site. However, the B.C. Supreme Court will not begin hearing the matter until Wednesday.
Tents remain in Calgary, too, despite demands from Mayor Naheed Nenshi that they be taken down and protesters leave their camp at Olympic Plaza.
Meantime, an Occupy Vancouver media volunteer said there are now more homeless and fewer activists at the Vancouver Art Gallery site than when the tents first went up Oct. 15.
Steve Collis said colder weather, internal divisions and fears of a police clean-up have caused some original protesters to leave.
“More homeless people moved in, when they started hearing this might be a good place to be … with free food, company, and a medical tent,” said Mr. Collis, an English professor at Simon Fraser University.
“It’s really no surprise, if you set up an encampment to protest economic and social problems in the world, that you attract homeless people and some drug addicts,” he said. “That is the crumbling edge where the economic system isn’t working.”
Both Mr. Ford and Mr. Robertson face calls for tougher action.
Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said police should be used to clear out the protesters. “I just don’t believe anyone has a right to permanently occupy a public park.”
And in Vancouver, mayoral challenger Suzanne Anton has accused Mr. Robertson of having no plan to rid the Art Gallery plaza of tents.
The ongoing encampment, rocked by fatal and near-fatal drug overdoses and alleged assaults against police during an on-site melee, has emerged as a major issue in the city’s bitter mayoral race.
With polls showing lessening public support for the protest, Ms. Anton’s demand for a firmer response, although with no mention of using police, appears to have given her campaign a boost.
On Monday, however, Ms. Anton indicated grudging agreement with Mr. Robertson’s view that any action should await a court ruling on the city’s application for an injunction.
“It would be almost contemptuous of the court not to wait, but they did not have to go the injunction route,” she insisted. “They could have gone the just-take-the-tents-down-the-first-day route.”
Fire officials, meanwhile, report that Occupy Vancouver remains short of total compliance with court-ordered fire safety directives.
“Every time we go down there and they come close to compliance, if we leave for 10 minutes, things regress and there’s non-compliance back in place,” said Assistant Fire Chief Joe Foster.
In Toronto, city officials say they pay daily visits to the St. James Park encampment of about 100 tents and have found no heath and safety issues.
With reports from Ian Bailey and Aleksandra Sagan in Vancouver, and Karen Howlett in Toronto
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