The city can’t go in and clear out the Occupy Vancouver camp unless it can prove to the courts that the protest is creating severe health, safety, property damage or criminal-behaviour problems.
That was city manager Penny Ballem’s conclusion on Tuesday as council held its last meeting of the three-year Vision Vancouver administration, a session dominated by debate over the Occupy camp.
Ms. Ballem said the city is sending in firefighters, engineering staff and homelessness workers regularly to make sure the camp doesn’t grow and nothing dangerous is set up.
“We’re not just leaving them to do whatever and saying, ‘We’ll come back in two weeks,’ ” Ms. Ballem said. “And we know the risks of an encampment like this will rise over the coming weeks.”
But, she said, until there’s proof that the camp is causing a serious problem, evidence from past court decisions indicates that a judge would be unlikely to grant an injunction. The argument that the city doesn’t like the protesters in the camp or businesses find it inconvenient wouldn’t fly, she said.
Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu also told council that the force prefers that the city get an injunction. When the city has cleared out homeless camps, police have insisted officials get an injunction.
Chief Chu also noted to council that “agencies that have intervened have not been able to end [Occupy camps]”
In Oakland, Calif., he said, “there was a significant police deployment, but protesters are back in equal numbers.”
The meeting, attended by large numbers of Occupy protesters and downtown business representatives, frequently turned into political theatre.
Non-Partisan Association Councillor Suzanne Anton, who had brought a motion to demand a seven-day ultimatum for the camp, turned her time to speak into an attack on Mayor Gregor Robertson.
“Mr. Mayor, what is your plan?” she asked, ignoring the staff presentations.
Mr. Robertson responded by accusing her of political grandstanding and saying that his plan is to “reach a peaceful and sensible ending that protects the right to free speech.”
Other Vision councillors asked rhetorical questions, such as how much it costs to do one murder investigation or whether the costs for the camp would have been lower if “some hadn’t chosen to make this a political football.”
Occupy protesters at the meeting were unimpressed by the political debate and the lack of discussion about the issues of economic inequality that the Occupy camps have tried to highlight.
Although one of them held up a sign throughout the meeting saying, “Suzanne Anton is here for the 1 per cent,” none of them are fans of the mayor or his Vision Vancouver party.
Lauren Gill, who’s running for council herself, said Vision has already taken down two homeless camps and she doesn’t believe it was ever interested in free speech before.
The meeting didn’t address what is going to happen to other events scheduled for the art-gallery plaza, such as a menorah-lighting, the Santa Claus parade and Grey Cup festivities.
Some reports have said that the protesters want other users to come to the camp’s daily general assemblies and ask permission to share the space.
But one young organizer, Kaleen McNamara, said that the camp has formed a community-inclusion committee that will start contacting other groups tomorrow about coming events.
“It’s their space, too,” she said.
Ms. Anton continues to evade questions about what she would do if campers were asked to leave by city staff and refused to go.
One of her supporters, former NPA candidate Michael Geller, said on Tuesday he thought police will have to be brought in to break up the camp eventually.
Ms. Ballem said no other Canadian city has been able to get an Occupy protest to move.