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Occupy Vancouver outside the Vancouver Art Gallery in downtown Vancouver, on Oct. 17, 2011.

Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press

Mayor Gregor Robertson has said the Occupy Vancouver tents on city-leased land have to go – but that's not the message that city staff are delivering or protesters are hearing at ground level.

Assistant city engineer Jerry Dobrovolny, who is in charge of monitoring the Occupy Vancouver protest camp outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, said on Thursday that, although staff have told people to remove some tents for safety, they haven't asked for the majority to be removed, even though the mayor said this week that they should be taken down.

"One of the things we've recognized as part of the Occupy movement is people sleeping on the site," Mr. Dobrovolny said. "And we don't want to provoke a situation. We don't want any injuries."

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The Occupy Vancouver protest is being more than merely tolerated; the protesters are being allowed to use power and water from the art gallery, at the city's request.

"This is for health and safety reasons," Mr. Dobrovolny said.

Min Reyes, a student who was among the 300 people who organized the protest, said she hasn't heard any city staff say that tents have to go.

That's even though there's been a noticeable surge of people building structures on the camp, and even though the protesters have heard via news media that the mayor has changed his position.

"Our mayor gave us the green light to stay," she said. "But this week he changed his mind. That's when some of the tensions started at the camp."

In fact, Ms. Reyes decided to leave the camp on Thursday because she feels it has lost its focus on important social issues and turned into a camp for the sake of a camp.

"The focus has shifted from issues to building more structures. This movement has to gain credibility and it can't do that by woodworking," the SFU communications graduate said.

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Ms. Reyes said she's talked to other early organizers who have left as well because they're frustrated with the protest's inability to develop strategies or take stands on important political issues.

Although a general assembly may vote one day to oppose the Conservative government's proposed new crime bill, nothing happens after that, she said.

And something that one general assembly votes on one day can be rejected by another group the next day.

Instead, the campers are directing a lot of energy to logistics: providing 2,500 vegan meals a day and improving their living quarters.

Although city staff are not allowing tents on sidewalks around the gallery, in an area around the fountain, and in fire-access routes they've set up, people are creating more and more elaborate shelters to keep warm.

That's all in contrast to the new line the mayor took this week, saying that the Occupy protesters had a right to protest but not to a permanent encampment.

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On Wednesday, he reiterated that.

"I've made it very clear that the encampment needs to come to an end, publicly. City staff and VPD have been on the site since it began and reminded the people on site that they are in breach of city bylaws by having the structures there."

Mr. Dobrovolny said staff are making sure that campers aren't using propane or generators. They've also told them the site is "at capacity" and no more tents will be allowed. But he wasn't clear on what discussions were going on to figure out how to end the camp-out.

Municipal politicians and staff around the world have been stymied about how to handle the protests, which have no defined leaders or goals.

Oakland broke up its camp with police and tear gas. Irvine, Calif., passed a council motion acknowledging that Occupy tents as a "form of free speech."

People who have worked on taking apart previous Vancouver protest camps say the strategy they used was to get to know the leaders and negotiate with them.

As well, those protest or homeless camps, like the one that preceded the 2002 election around Woodward's or those in east-side parks in the following years, were gradually eliminated by offering people the housing they were demanding.

However, the encampment has become an issue that could affect the outcome of next month's municipal election.

"But we can't reform global capitalism by Nov. 19," said Councillor Geoff Meggs.

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