Protest occupations in Vancouver and Victoria may be living on borrowed time.
Mayors in both cities said Friday that concern over onsite safety is forcing their hand, with court injunctions to end the encampments under active consideration.
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin expressed alarm over reports of a spike in drug use and criminal activity among the 50 or so protesters at the Occupy Victoria tent site by City Hall.
“What we are seeing is a change for the worse,” said Mr. Fortin, who had previously been supportive of the protest movement. “It’s starting to deteriorate...We’re not sure that what is happening there now is safe.”
The city is monitoring the situation on an hourly basis, the mayor said, and is considering going to court for an injunction to have the encampment disbanded. “You don’t want to wait for someone to get hurt.”
In Vancouver, while no decision has been made to seek a court injunction, Mayor Gregor Robertson said it is under active consideration. “It’s one of the tools the city can use [to end the encampment]”
Globe reporters tweet from Occupy Vancouver
City officials were prominent observers at the Occupy Vancouver site on Friday, prompting speculation they were gathering information that could be used to buttress an injunction application.
More immediately, however, Mr. Robertson said the city could take action even without going to court, if Occupy Vancouver tenters fail to follow orders issued Thursday by the Vancouver Fire Department.
Protesters have removed some large tarps that had covered a number of tents at the site -- as ordered by the VFD, but they continue to resist other measures, such as removing unoccupied tents.
“If the fire bylaws are not respected, the city has no choice but to take action,” Mr. Robertson declared. “The bylaws are all about threats to life safety, and life safety is paramount.”
Decision-making at Occupy Vancouver is complicated by the protesters’ declaration that civic bylaws do not apply to their occupation and all matters must be submitted to a general assembly for consensus.
“We are a self-ruling, autonomous zone,” said Kiki, the movement’s media spokeswoman, who declined to provide her last name.
“All orders or threats can only be addressed if brought to our general assembly. Ultimate decision-making rests in the hands of we, the people.”
Mr. Robertson scorned the assertion that Occupy Vancouver should be left to rule itself. “That is public land, the bylaws of the city apply, and they need to be respected.”
He said the three-week occupation of the Vancouver Art Gallery plaza, organized to support similar protests against economic inequality that began in New York, has underminded the protesters’ message.
“We are left in a situation where we must act to provide life safety, and it becomes a whole different challenge for all of us.”
The city’s overall goal is to end the encampment without inciting violence or conflict, as has happened in other cities where police have used force to evict protesters, Mr. Robertson told reporters.
Although he did not set a deadline for the protesters’ departure, their occupation must end, the mayor said.
“The issue of permanent encampment and occupation of that public space has now trumped the important issues the protesters have been raising.”
City staff are working together on a daily basis to try and resolve the occupation peacefully, he said.
With municipal elections just two weeks away, Mr. Robertson is on the firing line over his handling of the occupation.
Challenger Suzanne Anton has been withering in her criticism of his lack of action to force Occupy Vancouver to remove their 100 or so tents.
Standing on the corner of the occupation Friday, she told reporters that she will make sure the occupation is ended, if she is chosen mayor. “It’s not the people, of course. It’s the tents that need to go.”
Asked what she would do to force to protesters out if they refused to leave, Ms. Anton replied: “I’m very confident these things can be done peacefully.”
Fire department officials, meanwhile, continue to discuss matters with on-site representatives, trying to have their orders followed fully.
They waived their earlier deadline of 10 a.m. Friday, in light of partial compliance by the protesters.
“I have my staff doing inspections....It’s ongoing,” said Fire Chief John McKearney.
VFD Captain Gabe Roder said the issue of fire safety at the site is serious.
“They haven’t seen tents burn before. We have,” he said.