Hundreds of protesters filled a Halifax park Saturday calling for the city’s mayor to resign and demanding answers from police who they accused of roughing up demonstrators when a camp was torn down a day earlier.
Chanting “Peter Kelly has got to go,” 300 Occupy Nova Scotia protesters held a rally outside City Hall to express their anger and frustration at the way they were forced out of their camp site at another park on Friday.
Organizer Kyle Buott said dozens of people, who had camped at the nearby public park, were given eviction notices around midday, with only a few hours to clear out their belongings and tents.
“The mayor ordering a peaceful, democratic protest removed on Remembrance Day, which celebrates the veterans who fought for democratic freedoms in the first place, is absolutely shameful,” he said.
“He and the police chief need to held accountable for the police brutality that happened yesterday.”
Fourteen people were arrested at Victoria Park and taken into custody Friday before being released. Several said they were charged with obstruction of justice as police tried to tear down dozens of tents in the park’s central square.
Courtney Redden, 24, said police grabbed her by the neck and punched her in the face as she tried to protect her tent.
“They were pushing and shoving us and pulled me up by the throat,” she said. “But I’m very empowered by this – it’s much stronger.”
Miles Howe said he was “brutally dragged through the mud” at Victoria Park, held in detention for over 12 hours and charged with obstruction of justice.
Police spokeswoman Theresa Rath disagreed with the accusation and said protesters were resisting officers’ attempts to dismantle the tents and arrest them.
She said people were standing on the tents and locking arms, preventing police from getting at them.
“They were refusing to allow us to arrest them, so we had to use force to do that,” she said, adding that no complaints had been filed.
“It’s certainly not how we wanted it to go, but they forced us to arrest them.”
She said three people were arrested later Saturday, two for breaching the conditions of their release Friday and one for trying to stop police from taking them in.
She said the two were ordered not to be in a municipal park, but still attended the rally at Grand Parade.
Police moved into Victoria Park Friday after notices were handed out to the protesters, telling them they were in violation of a bylaw prohibiting them from setting up tents on the property.
The bylaw states that no one can camp in a municipal park without written permission from the city.
“The city gave them notice early [Friday]... we went down and met with them to make arrangements to leave,” said chief of Halifax Regional Police, Frank Beazley.
“After several hours there was no movement whatsoever by anyone there to comply with our request.”
The arrests came after people showed signs of resistance, said the chief.
Chief Beazley also said that in future, protesters will be prevented from setting up camp in any municipal park.
That includes Grand Parade, a downtown square where they had been set up before being asked to relocate for Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Protesters said they complied with the request and expected to be able to return to Grand Parade the following day. But Mr. Kelly insisted he did not grant that permission.
Mr. Kelly was not available Saturday, but has said he ordered the eviction after it became clear “the public was not supportive of not being able to use public space.”
He has also said he wanted the city bylaw enforced for public safety.
The protesters have been told police will enforce the bylaw if they set up tents in any public park.
It wasn’t clear where they would go or if they would return to one of the two parks after Saturday’s rally dispersed.