Halifax has dropped the hammer on activists who have been camped out in the downtown for weeks, arresting 14 and forcing protesters to pack up their tent city.
Friday’s move comes amid signs that municipal governments across Canada are hardening their approach to activism inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests.
In Halifax, the eviction notice came only days after protesters agreed to vacate a central spot and allow for Remembrance Day ceremonies. The activists set up nearby, vowing to return to the Grand Parade to continue their Occupy Nova Scotia protest.
But only minutes after the Friday’s ceremonies were complete, Mayor Peter Kelly issued a public warning that the protest was in violation of city bylaws.
“Our parks are for all of the public, not an unregulated campground for some,” he said in a statement.
The mayor said that formal notice had been distributed to protesters that the bylaw would be enforced as of Friday at their current location, Victoria Park. The bylaw would also be enforced at the Grand Parade, he noted, scuppering protesters’ plans to return.
Police massed at the protest site made an initial sweep in the early afternoon that activists said resulted in numerous arrests. Police spokeswoman Theresa Rath confirmed that 12 men and two women had been arrested and were being charged with obstruction.
Later in the afternoon, police gave the occupiers 45 minutes to vacate entirely. After lengthy discussion within the group about the viability of trying to hold the area, the protesters agreed to strike their camp and relocate to a nearby church.
As they packed up, chants of “this is what a police state looks like” and “Peter Kelly, shame on you” rang through the park.
The chief of Halifax Regional Police, Frank Beazley, said the arrests came after people showed signs of resistance.
“People started standing on the edges of their tents, defying the police and saying ‘You’re not taking our tents,’ ” he said. “We again asked them to move and they didn’t, and so we went in and we removed people.
“Some of them started resisting and some of them started taunting police and some of them just wouldn’t comply – so in the end there were arrests made.”
Chief Beazley also said that in future, protesters will be prevented from setting up camp in any municipal park.
The mayor said that the city, although accepting of assembly and protest, cannot allow overnight occupation.
“Council and the public have respected the right to peaceful protest and free assembly, but the time has come for the encampment to end,” he said.
Protest supporter Kaley Kennedy, 24, said she was disappointed in Mr. Kelly for “bargaining in bad faith” after he and some veterans met with them recently to discuss relocating for Remembrance Day ceremonies.
“I would hope that the people of Halifax see this as an infringement of our right to peaceful assembly and our right to free speech,” she said at the protest site.
“I think the movement got quite a bit of momentum today.”
With a report from The Canadian Press