Less than 24 hours before a 2 p.m. Monday court-ordered deadline to leave the north plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery, protesters folded up blankets and tarps. A moving van was being loaded with equipment and supplies – to ensure, said one woman, that more valuable possessions were not hauled away by police, as had occurred when members of Occupy Wall Street were forcibly removed from New York City’s Zuccotti Park last week.
Inside the UBC Lounge at Robson Square, a small group debated the agenda for a press conference, scheduled for Monday at 10 a.m., to outline Occupy Vancouver’s plans after the tents come down.
It’s the challenge facing the Occupy movement across Canada as it enters its second month. What no one – from supporters to city officials and police departments – wants to see is a repeat of the violence that accompanied forced removals of protesters in New York and Oakland, and the pepper-spraying of students at the University of California Davis campus.
Demonstrators packed up peacefully in Halifax, Saskatoon and Regina, although their counterparts in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Quebec City and Montreal remain. But the patience of civic leaders with these makeshift camps in public and private spaces is coming to an end.
A court decision is expected Monday at 9 a.m. to determine whether to uphold the City of Toronto’s orders for protesters to vacate St. James Park between midnight and 5:30 a.m. Adam Slinn, a media volunteer with Occupy Toronto, said it’s still too soon to say whether protesters will relocate if they’re evicted.
Mr. Slinn said protesters, if faced with eviction, will first “defend the park.” He said some people are willing to be arrested and have practised non-violent block techniques, like linking arms and laying down, to be used in key areas of the encampment including the medical and media areas. People who don’t want to be arrested can support the occupation from nearby sidewalks, he said.
If people are arrested, they will go peacefully, Mr. Slinn said. The next step will be to hold a general assembly to decide whether the group wants to occupy another park or to continue without an occupation, he said. “The movement itself will continue with or without a park.”
But continue where, and to what end, are now the questions facing supporters of Occupy Vancouver. According to a post on their website, they will ask the City of Vancouver to provide a site for a pilot dome-housing project to house and supply food, counselling and recreational services. They also want the city to provide indoor space for an office wing, “large enough and suitable for its full range of administrative and executive tasks.”
But even with two tangible, if somewhat unrealistic demands on the table, the planning of Monday’s press conference quickly evolved into an energetic live-stream debate. Long after Occupy Vancouver leaders had left to finish loading the truck, one supporter tried a new tack. “What would the city do if it was on our side? What would the province do? Now push for it.”
With files from Patrick Brethour and Carys Mills.