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Mayor rejects use of police to clear protesters

Mayor Gregor Robertson is surrounded by members of the Vision Vancouver team as they launch part of their 2011 election platform at Memerial South Park in Vancouver, October 23, 2011.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Mayor Gregor Robertson is losing patience with the Occupy Vancouver encampment, but rules out police action to clear the site.

Mr. Robertson was reacting to a sense of frustration in the community as the protests drag on. In addressing the issue Sunday, he specifically mentioned the violence that broke out in Melbourne last week. About 100 people were arrested and two officers injured as police used dogs, horses and pepper spray in a successful bid to remove protesters from the city square.

Mr. Robertson is facing criticism from mayoral candidate Susan Anton of the Non-Partisan Association for not clearing away the protest involving about 50 tents in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. He said the city has been watching similar protests around the world.

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"Cities that have gone in swinging and attempting to drive protests out have created havoc. There has been violence," he said after a platform announcement for his Vision Vancouver party ahead of next month's municipal election

"We don't want to follow that path of creating chaos in a downtown with a heavy-handed approach."

His comments came on a weekend in which about 150 Occupy Vancouver protesters marched among the downtown corporate offices of four banks. At one point, some went into a TD branch and danced on the counter. Vancouver police said there was no damage to any of the banks and that no arrests were made.

Despite his aversion to police action, Mr. Robertson promised an end to the protest through talks with activists.

"The protest will end. It is definitely going to come to a close," he said, saying talks are under way among city staff, the VPD and protesters to end the protest. "All of us are concerned about how long this goes on."

"We would like the tents to come down. That has been a clear message sent to the protesters. They have chosen to keep the tents up as part of their protest. At this point, VPD and city staff advise that intervening physically, directly is not the appropriate next step. We must continue to try for a peaceful resolution and work with the protesters to bring this protest to a close and hopefully that's soon."

Mr. Robertson has previously said he would not shut down the tent city unless protesters become violent, but said now that the protest will be ended if activists violate city laws.

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"The encampment has certainly grown and there are increasing concerns that safety and health could emerge as real problems in the days ahead," Mr. Robertson said.

"We're all watching it very closely. There will be very little margin for error if there are violations, then certainly the city will intervene. At this point, it's peaceful but treading on a thin line."

Ms. Anton said Sunday that it appears Mr. Robertson, seeking voter support for a second term, is "feeling the heat" from the public about the hard-to-miss protest, especially as the space at the art gallery is off limits to others in the community. She also noted the action against the banks has also alarmed many.

Ms. Anton said the city should not have allowed the tents to be raised. However, Mr. Robertson said it would not have been safe to intervene as the tents were set up earlier this month among hundreds of protesters.

Other cities are also considering their options. "When it is determined that we no longer have a peaceful protest, but rather an occupation of the park, we will consider options to remove the individuals," said Adrienne Batra, spokeswoman for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

In Edmonton, however, Melcor Development Corp., gave Occupy Edmonton protesters until Sunday at 11 p.m. to evacuate a park next to the financial district.

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In response, protesters started a petition, and said they would resist the eviction.

With a file from The Canadian Press

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