Mayor Gregor Robertson says the Occupy Vancouver protest will be able to go on as long as it’s not on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Mr. Robertson mentioned the possibility to reporters Monday night following a raucous debate with his rival for his job, Suzanne Anton, on homelessness at a downtown church that was crashed by members of the Occupy Vancouver protest movement.
“The occupy protest is still going strong. I expect that will continue,” Mr. Robertson told reporters following the 2½-hour debate.
“ I obviously have real concerns about the tent camp and we are focused on addressing safety at the tent camp.”
City officials are to go to B.C Supreme Court on Tuesday seeking an injunction to have the Occupy Vancouver encampment dismantled, clearing it of tents and other structures that have occupied a major public plaza downtown since Oct. 15.
The move comes after the weekend death of 23-year-old Ashlie Gough, found dead in a tent on Nov. 5th.
Pressed on whether there’s a projected deadline for clearing the camp, Mr. Robertson said, “It’s still not clear how long it will be. Protest is fine and can continue, but the tent camp is not safe.”
The Occupy Vancouver protest shifted a few blocks south from the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery for the debate to the cavernous interior of the downtown St. Andrews-Wesley United Church, which seats about 1,400 people.
It was standing room only for a debate on homelessness, which has become a municipal election routine, and is considered a key forum ahead of the Nov. 19 vote.
Police were on hand, but there were no serious physical clashes during the discussion on such issues as assisted housing, co-ops, housing affordability, and the Olympic Village.
However, Ms. Anton and Mr. Robertson were the targets of barbed heckling throughout the evening with Occupy activists especially loud and emphatic with shouts of “Mike Check” and other chants. Others in the audience occasionally yelled at the Occupy activists to be quiet.
Reverend Gary Paterson met with activists ahead of the proceedings to request calm, and spent the evening roaming the hall and chatting with individual activists.
“I wish there had been perhaps less shouting because I think the questions are really important, and I just hope that some of the people who were here weren’t put off,” he said.
He was dressed in his full formal robes, which he deemed a tactical measure. “I don’t usually wear this kind of thing, except Sunday, but I look official,” he said, explaining his decision to dress up.
He said he thought he could get attention and urge people to cool it, but it did not work. Neither did repeated calls for calm from the church lectern in which he named specific activists.
At one point, he became particularly angry when one activist threatened a riot if a long line of questioners were cut off even though the evening was drawing to a close.
That remark caught the attention of Mr. Robertson.
“It’s very troubling to hear people talk about riots. Obviously, I think all of us are still sensitive about what happened on June 15,” he said, referring to the Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver. He said it was tough to get through the debate because he and Ms. Anton were constantly interrupted.
“It was not fair to a lot of people who came here to hear a debate and weren’t able to have a flow to that because of all the disruption.”
At one point, an activist challenged the mayor and Ms. Anton to attend a planned Saturday rally at the art gallery.
Mr. Robertson wouldn’t commit to being there – “It depends on my availability. I have a full schedule from here to the election.” – or whether there would be a camp this weekend.
Following the debate, Ms. Anton waded into the crowd to talk to some of the more vocal protesters. She was not available to comment following the meeting.