An unruly element intent on violence has infiltrated the Occupy Vancouver encampment in downtown Vancouver, according to city police chief, Jim Chu. He warned “legitimate protesters” at the site to leave.
Chief Chu’s remarks followed an overnight onsite confrontation in which he said police officers were punched, kicked and bitten. Another officer had his ammunition clip stolen, Chief Chu said.
Vancouver police said Tuesday afternoon that they have not recovered the ammunition clip.
Asked if the public should be concerned for their safety, police responded that they have documented the incident and will share this information within the police community. Should anyone find the missing magazine they are asked to contact police.
“This can no longer stand,” Chief Chu declared Tuesday. “We are issuing a public warning to those who remain on the site. It is time to leave.”
Despite the incident, Mayor Gregor Robertson told the Globe and Mail that he does not believe in setting a deadline to end the occupation.
“The deadlines and ultimatums have not worked in other places,” he said. “They have just helped the resistors to organize. It’s just not prudent to fix a deadline at this point. We just will steadily increase the pressure, and look for every opportunity to resolve it at this point.”
Still, the mayor acknowledged that the confrontation was a “tense situation” and the first during the Occupy Vancouver protest. He said it highlights why the city is going to court to seek an injunction against the tent city.
That application for an injunction has been adjourned until Wednesday morning.
The brief delay was agreed to in order to provide more time for the protesters to find a lawyer to represent them.
According to a sworn affidavit from Vancouver Police Constable Blake Chersinoff filed at the injunction, drug paraphernalia was found inside the tent of Ashlie Gough, who died at the Occupy site on Saturday.
"I found evidence of smoking inside the tent, in particular, a crack pipe and cigarettes. The tent was full of flammable materials, including sleeping bags, clothing, books, and backpacks," Const. Chersinoff says in his affidavit.
Saying they need time to prepare legal arguments, Occupy Vancouver protestors are asking the court to adjourn the application for an interim injunction that would empower officials to dismantle the downtown encampment.
In its application, the City asks for an order to allow city staff to remove structures – and an order authorizing police to arrest anyone who is interfering with those staff workers.
The city states in the application that protestors have constructed tents and other structures, lit fires, deposited garbage and removed soil. The application goes on to note that protestors have not complied with orders from the fire departments, and have similarly ignored warnings that they are in violation of city bylaws, and are trespassing on city lands.
The city is asking that the court order the removal of all structures, and a ban on new structures, as well as a prohibition on lighting fires, depositing garbage, or removing soil.
As the city filed an the injunction order in court, the Occupy protesters held an open mic session. The mood was tense and the protesters admitted it's hard to know what will happen tonight.
The speakers taking turns on the VAG steps called for varying measures. One man promised to make YouTube stars out of anyone the police act violently against. Another called for everyone to resist letting the police onto the premises. He recalled using a wire fence to accomplish a similar goal in his earlier activism days.
Greenpeace Vancouver liason attempted to train the crowd in non-violent resistance.
Like Mayor Robertson, Chief Chu also gave no timetable for police to move in to end the encampment. He said police would await the outcome of the city’s injunction application to have tents cleared from the site.
In the meantime, however, those who stay at the site risk arrest and possible violence from other, less peaceful protesters, Chief Chu said.
Chief Chu noted that the protest began last month with considerable good will and cooperation between occupants and police.
But lately, according to Chief Chu, the site has attracted “an increasing number of problem people who seem intent on breaking the law and fighting with anyone who gets in their way.
“Unfortunately, it now appears that the goodwill and those who espoused it are gone. We have seen the makeup of the protesting group change,” Chief Chu told reporters. “We have seen the black masks and others who are intent on violence.”
He blamed this group for the trouble late Monday night, when scuffles broke out between protesters, police and firefighters trying to douse a fire burning in a barrel. Protesters said it was a “sacred fire”.
“Our officers received the full wrath of the protesters, who punched, kicked and bit them,” Chief Chu said. Two officers were sent to hospital “with human bite marks”.
He declined to say how police would end the three-and-a-half week occupation, other than to insist the goal of the VPD is end the encampment peacefully.
After the fire was extinguished, a few protesters appeared to be weeping beside some ashes still left on the ground.
From the video, the unruly crowd seemed to number about 50.
The Vancouver Police Department said they would release a report on the confrontation later Tuesday.
Victoria, meanwhile, has joined the city of Vancouver in seeking a court injunction to have tents and other structures removed from their occupation sites.
As in Vancouver, a B.C. Supreme Court hearing will be held on Victoria’s application later Tuesday.
In a statement, Victoria said the square beside city hall had to be cleared to make way for upcoming Christmas activities and a public skating rink.
With reports from Ian Bailey and Aleksandra Sagan