Victoria police served eviction notices to more than a dozen hardcore protesters remaining at the Occupy Victoria encampment in frosty sub-zero temperatures Saturday morning.
As voters headed to the polls for Saturday's civic elections, a team of a half dozen officers rousted sleepy, dishevelled campers from their tents to advise them of a court injunction requiring them to vacate Centennial Square outside city hall.
However, police lacked the legal authority to forcibly remove those who refused to leave voluntarily, due to a provincial court judge’s refusal Friday to approve the city’s request for an enforcement order to accompany the injunction.
Dozens of people have left the site in the last few days but a few tents remain, and a handful of protesters said they're willing to stay put and risk arrest to make their point.
“I’m absolutely willing to stay and get arrested because that will get the discussion into a courtroom and get the issues a little more amplified,” said protester Joseph Reville, who has been at the site since the occupation began Oct. 15. “That’s been my position since Day 1.”
Police told some protesters that unoccupied tents and other chattels will be removed over the weekend if possible. The city is scheduled to begin erecting a skating rink in the square Monday as part of its annual Christmas celebrations.
While the area earmarked for public skating was mostly clear of tents, two tents were erected in a new location, on a small patio outside the Capital Regional District headquarters in the apparent belief that the eviction notice does not apply to CRD property.
As well, a cluster of tents and shopping carts filled with bags of protesters’ belongings cluttered a covered area beneath city hall chamber that has been used as a communal kitchen for more than a month.
Police said Saturday they have the option of removing empty tents and other “chattels” over the weekend, but have decided to refrain from taking any further action until city lawyers have had a chance to pursue an enforcement order in court Monday morning.
In Toronto, protesters marched on city hall while they wait to find out if the city will have similar clout to clear its camp.
The court is expected to rule Monday morning on whether the group can stay in St. James Park, near the country's financial hub.
Demonstrators with Occupy Toronto said on Saturday that the movement will live on even if the camp is dismantled.
“I think this movement is much more than the park, so hopefully we won't lose the park, but if we do lose the park, we'll keep right on going,” said Jenny Isaacs, 23, who has spent several days and a few nights in the tent village.
The Occupy movement began in Manhattan with Occupy Wall Street and crossed the border into Canada on Oct. 15. The protesters say they are demonstrating against income inequality and unfair financial systems.
Occupy camps in Halifax, Regina and Saskatoon have been taken down while protesters in Calgary, Toronto, Victoria and Vancouver are dealing with eviction notices.
Occupy Edmonton protesters said they received notice on Saturday that the owner of the privately-owned property where they've been camping wants them out by Sunday at 11 p.m. The protesters say they've been threatened with prosecution if they don't leave.
The owners, Melcor Developments, have tried before to get the protesters to go. Late last month, Melcor suggested they vacate the park after 11 p.m., but company president Ralph Young said at the time the protesters could stay as long as they were responsible with the space and remained peaceful.
Police in Edmonton said Saturday they were asking Occupy Edmonton organizers to monitor everyone at the site every 15 minutes due to the bitterly cold temperatures and the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from heaters. The forecast in Edmonton called for a low of -26 C Saturday night.
Meanwhile, protesters in Vancouver also received an order to pack up Friday night, with a deadline of 2 p.m. Monday. Police have been granted power to enforce that order.
With files from The Canadian Press