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Occupy protests barely hanging on amid legal trouble, cold weather

Police and bylaw officers hand out eviction notices to Occupy Calgary protesters on Nov. 15, 2011.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Occupy movements across the country are on their last tent pegs, as the courts, police and wintry weather combine to force an end to many of the protest encampments, while others are barely hanging on.

With numbers dwindling in the face of a concerted legal squeeze, protesters in Vancouver and Toronto struggled to maintain their sites Tuesday.

But in Victoria, Calgary and Quebec City, encampments were virtually cleaned out by police. A small group of activists remained at Occupy Ottawa, and tents also stayed up in Montreal. There, however, plunging temperatures and divisions among protesters were taking the steam out of the movement.

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Only Edmonton's relatively small tent city, recently winterized by protesters using a $7,500 donation from Occupy Wall Street, has so far remained free from legal entanglements.

In Toronto, hundreds of protesters left their 38-day occupation at St. James Park late Tuesday afternoon for a spirited march to City Hall, blocking rush-hour traffic.

But back at the Occupy site, there were fewer tents, the medical yurt structure was taken down, and there was talk of moving the occupation somewhere else, possibly to Queen's Park.

There were five people camping out at Queen's Park Tuesday night, just north of the legislature. They said they were anticipating many others showing up in the early hours of Wednesday.

Media volunteer Dhanan Bhim said those remaining at St. James Park were either willing to be arrested or waiting to be threatened with arrest before leaving.

At Occupy Toronto's evening general assembly, only a dozen or so people raised their hands to stay overnight to await a police raid – rumoured, according to protesters, for 4 a.m. Wednesday.

Masawe McCord-Franco, who locked himself to the site's library yurt on Monday, told the assembly he was fed up with what was happening.

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"I've been chained to a yurt for almost a day now [and]I'm sorry to say that I am disgusted. … There is no coherent plan."

As he waited to be locked to the structure again, Mr. McCord-Franco said: "I don't know what I'm defending right now."

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, it was a case of two strikes and you're out, at least downtown.

Occupy strategists were mum about their next move, after being forced to take down their tents for a second time in two days by a court injunction.

Occupy Vancouver ended its lengthy encampment on the Art Gallery plaza in the heart of the city Monday afternoon, but had then caught authorities off guard with a quick move to space adjacent to provincial court facilities in Robson Square.

The new occupation lasted less than 24 hours.

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Responding to a speedy application for a court injunction by the provincial Attorney-General, Madam Justice Anne MacKenzie of the B.C. Supreme Court ordered the tents gone by 5 p.m. They were.

Judge MacKenzie said the presence of more than a score of tents so close to the courts amounted to criminal contempt, which would have made occupants liable to large fines or jail time.

"The clear effect of the tents is to dominate that space, which is inconsistent with an open court system," she declared. "It interferes with the right of any Canadian to have unimpeded access to the courts."

However, Judge MacKenzie rejected the province's application for a more sweeping injunction that would have covered all public land in the city. She said it was speculative to assert Occupy Vancouver's plans were for roving protest camps to thwart court injunctions.

But protesters insisted their movement would continue somewhere else, as they loaded structures and equipment into moving trucks to be taken into storage.

"Just stay tuned," said Occupy Vancouver volunteer Suresh Fernando. "We'll pop up somewhere, sometime soon. This is all part of the process."

Later Tuesday, they dispersed from Robson Square and headed to Grandview Park on the east side of the city for occupation No. 3. The freshly renovated park is along the city's counterculture hotspot, Commercial Drive.

With files from Kim Mackrael, Ingrid Peritz, Dawn Walton and Josh Wingrove

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