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A sign at the Occupy Vancouver protest encampment in Vancouver, British Columbia November 9, 2011. (Andy Clark/ Reuters/Andy Clark/ Reuters)
A sign at the Occupy Vancouver protest encampment in Vancouver, British Columbia November 9, 2011. (Andy Clark/ Reuters/Andy Clark/ Reuters)

Occupy camp reduced to a debate over its right to exist Add to ...

The good and the bad (and okay, the ugly) of Occupy Vancouver were on vivid display this week.

Monday night, a number of Occupy Vancouver protesters crowded into the pews of a downtown church to harass, heckle and harangue Mayor Gregor Robertson and challenger Suzanne Anton, as they tried in vain to debate the critical issues of homelessness and affordable housing.

At one point, shouting got so loud, the ever even-tempered panelist, Frances Bula, told people to pipe down, and church minister Gary Paterson, in his white robes, began singing the Holly Near hymn, “We are a gentle, angry people” to soothe his flock.

Merely by shouting the magic words “Mic check,” protesters felt they could interrupt debate at will. I now know “what democracy looks like,” as some in the crowd chanted. It looks like someone yelling in my ear.

Later that night, a physical donnybrook erupted at the encampment, when police moved in to assist firefighters trying to douse a barrel fire, declared a “sacred fire” by aboriginal elders.

Less than 24 hours later, however, there was the good. A rational, well-run general assembly unfolded in the damp, chilly air, before more than 100 occupation participants. There was a surprising number of committee reports for an autonomous collective, sensible motions, amendments (“We are now deciding to do it b and a, rather than a and b”), thoughtful discussion, voting and even an older fellow who claimed the microphone to tell protesters: “You guys have hijacked this city and it’s not right.”

The problem for Occupy Vancouver – recognized by early supporters who have left – is that the longer the occupation goes on, the more the issue becomes its right to remain, rather than the economic inequality that sparked the protest in the first place.

Meanwhile, street people, the homeless and the troubled increasingly gravitate to the site, with at least one tragic result. Yes, they are society’s children, but was that the original goal?

Although some excellent folk remain down there, public support is hardly on the rise. It’s past time to declare victory and move on from the mud.

***

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu can be a funny guy. In a candid conversation with purveyors of the craft of journalism at The Globe and Mail on Thursday, the Chief grappled to find just the right words to describe proposals from armchair experts on how police should end the Art Gallery occupation. After a long pause, then finishing his sentence, Chief Chu said: “I felt like Rick Perry there for a moment.”

***

In case you are confused, I have determined, after diligent research, that our very own NPA, the world’s most partisan Non-Partisan Association, has nothing to do with another NPA in La Belle France, home of berets, Gitanes, et pseuds pretending to read Le Monde diplomatique. There, the NPA is the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste, which, in the words of co-founder and radical mailman, Olivier Besancenot, is “the left that fights, anti-capitalist, internationalist, anti-racist, ecologist, feminist.”

Not a word about taking on the forces of backyard chickens or front-yard wheat. Nor is it true that COPE candidate Tim “red as Fidel” Louis is a member.

***

Attention: Housing Minister Rich Coleman, who has so far nixed Vancouver requests for provincial funds to provide more shelter beds for the coming winter. On Wednesday night, every men’s shelter was filled. At women’s shelters, only six spots were vacant. Time to cough up, Mister Minister.

***

Every Saturday morning, over my oatmeal, celery sticks and carrot juice, I read the obits section of the newspaper. First, to see if I’m there and it’s time to apply for death benefits, and after that to both relish and mourn the often astonishing details of so many lives led, of those who contributed so much to this country without ever attracting a headline or nomination for an Order of B.C.

Two groups resonate with me more than others: Japanese-Canadians, whose lives we shattered so shamefully during and after the Second World War, and, of course, the vets.

As we know, those courageous young Canadians who risked all to take on Nazi Germany and imperialist Japan are now in their late eighties or older. Inevitably, they are leaving us at a very sad rate. Just check the obits page.

Friday, we pause once again to remember them. While we also pay respects to veterans from other wars, the aging combatants from the Second World War are the ones to capture our hearts.

When those dwindling few, bundled up against the cold, march past – heads still high – in their shuffling gait, rare is the eye that is dry.

So, see you at the cenotaph. It’s the least we can do. Lest we forget.

Follow on Twitter: @rodmickleburgh

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