Occupy Ottawa protesters ordered to clear out

OTTAWA (OttawaCitizen.com) — Occupy Ottawa protesters were given until 11:59 p.m. Monday night to get out of Confederation Park.

But when midnight came, a huge crowd was disappointed when police kept them waiting.

Rather that face an energized and swelled gathering in the park, not to mention a heightened media presence, police chose to wait the protesters out, perhaps letting the damp -6 temperatures work for them.

Ottawa police, the RCMP and National Capital Commission staff went to the Park on Monday afternoon, where protesters have been camping out for more than a month in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. They posted copies of the bilingual notice on thin stakes at the park entrances and used silver duct tape to attach it to each of the 50 or so tents on the property.

The eviction notice said, “All persons who are camping or have erected a tent must cease these activities in Confederation Park immediately. All tents, structures, equipment, debris and other personal belongings used for these activities must be removed from Confederation Park on or before 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 21, 2011, failing which, the NCC, its agents or peace officers, may take the necessary steps to remove all such items without further notice and at the owner’s risk. All such items will be kept in storage for a period of up to 15 days.”

The notice also said the eviction would be enforced in accordance with provisions of the Trespass to Property Act or “by any other means available.”

Protesters held what they called a general assembly Monday evening that started at about at 6:30 p.m. That meeting, which featured about 100 people, was consumed early on by arguments over process. They debated the course that Occupy Ottawa would take over the next several hours.

Early in the discussion, the group decided to leave up to the conscience of each individual the ultimate decision of whether to comply with or physically resist eviction, but the group felt it still needed to vote on an official position, largely symbolic.

“We do not comply with this eviction notice,” was that official stance.

In practical terms, many planned to leave before the police got there, while others planned to stay, even if it meant they’d be arrested and dragged away.

Ottawa lawyer Daniel Nugent addressed the crowd and offered advice on what to do if arrested. Nugent was offering pro bono services to those who end up in handcuffs. The group also decided they would put away communal property such as food and tents before the police enter the park to clear it of protesters.

Shane Davis-Young, one of the facilitators of the general assembly, said he did not plan to get arrested. The 21-year-old computer science student said he has not been sleeping in the park.

“I have a back problem and I have a sore back and other time commitments,” he said.

Davis-Young said Occupy Ottawa will live on, in one form or another, through the winter, and there will likely be an indoor venue somewhere for more general assemblies.

“We’re talking to some unions about that,” he said.

Arun Smith, another facilitator, said he would stay and leave it to the police to decide whether to arrest him.

“I will not make the choice to get arrested or not,” said Smith, 23, who is a full-time federal public servant and a full-time university student. “But I will stay here.”

William Legros, 30, there with his pregnant fiancée, who is due to give birth in less than a month, said he would leave before police arrived. He said that with a child on the way, he didn’t want a criminal record.

Earlier, the mood was relatively lighthearted when an impromptu meeting decided that the kitchen tent should get started on a feast. A handful of cheerful officers, in city, RCMP and NCC uniforms, hung around by the park fountain, watching from a distance.

In advance of the general assembly, Occupy Ottawa issued a news release condemning the eviction notice, but did not indicate any specific plan of action.

The news release said: “We are being evicted despite the fact that we have complied with all of the NCC’s requests concerning our stay in Confederation Park and our use of the park.

“The NCC has not responded to emails from Occupy Ottawa since last week. Although it has publicly said it recognizes our right to be in the park and has publicly committed to discussions, it appears that the NCC has intended all along to evict us.

“We were prepared to work with the NCC to ensure that Winterlude would be its usual success. We even planned to make an ice sculpture for the 99%. By refusing to make room for our peaceful protest, the NCC shows us it cares more about ice sculptures than it cares about living, breathing human beings. What sort of ‘heritage’ will we leave our children if we cannot protest gross inequalities in our society?

“This eviction notice — along with the other evictions of Occupy Wall Street and everywhere — is a disgrace. We continue to stand in solidarity with the 99% against the 1% who are showing their fear of us by using the authorities to try to evict us. You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.”

The mood among the occupiers earlier Monday afternoon was sombre but resigned, with several protesters saying their first plan was to get their own belongings in order and ready to move.

“Some will resist, some others will relocate,” said Maxim “Dali” Cossette, who said he’d been involved in the planning of the demonstration before it began, so he’s been part of it for “minus two weeks.” Some of the occupiers don’t have homes and some have given them up.

“We’re going to have to find someplace else, probably on city land. This has been a good loophole,” he said, referring to the mishmash of jurisdictions that puts the park in the hands of the NCC but leaves enforcement of many rules to the city government. “We’ll regroup.”

Councillor Rainer Bloess, whose office is at across the street at City Hall, went to the park Monday afternoon in his suit jacket to support the eviction. “I think the message has been lost a long time ago here ... There isn’t a clear message to speak of. And I think if you look around here, they have basically desecrated this park. It’s a pigsty here and it needs to be cleaned up and I think the tents need to be moved out. The time has come.”

During the protest, paths have been beaten into the grass among the tents and a pile of shipping pallets has grown in a central spot. Otherwise, the park is relatively tidy — for a campsite — and portable toilets are under trees near the fountain for sanitary facilities.

The eviction notice comes on the same day that protesters in Toronto were also served notice to vacate the downtown park they have been camping in, a coincidence noted by supporter Aalya Ahmad.

“This seems like a co-ordinated attempt on the part of cities,” she said, adding Occupy Ottawa protesters had reached out to the NCC to explore options to coexist in the park during the Winterlude festivities coming up in February.

“I guess the NCC has decided it doesn’t want to tolerate peaceful protest,” she said.

Ahmad, who never camped out but provided support and led several training seminars on the site, said the movement won’t be stopped by an eviction notice.

“This movement started a nationwide conversation. The more people try to clamp down on it, the more conversations are going to keep happening,” she said.

NCC CEO Marie Lemay spoke about the eviction notice at a 3:30 p.m. news conference.

She said the NCC expected the occupation to be over quickly when it began a little over a month ago.

“We really expected the encampment to be short-term,” she said. Officials began getting worried around Nov. 4, when they began to see wood being brought into the park and a “winterizing process.”

The NCC had been working with Ottawa Police and got the fire department involved, Lemay said.

On Nov. 9, “we were very clear about the fact that they would have to leave the site, sooner than later, that we needed to render the use back to its usual public use, that all Canadians could use that land.

“We were hoping that they would leave before we would have to serve a notice. Unfortunately that has not happened,” she said.

Ottawa police have been asked to enforce the Trespass to Property Act after the deadline passes, Lemay said.

Asked what would happen if protesters moved to other federal land, Lemay replied that camping on NCC property is not allowed apart from in the Greenbelt and Gatineau Park during summer.

“Any setup of tents will be considered in breach of our regulation and the Trespass Act,” she said.

Lemay said the NCC has been monitoring the situation in the city and across Canada.

“Every day is a new day in this, and it’s a very delicate balance when you’re trying to come to a resolution that is a safe and respectful one,” Lemay said.

“We had worked with the partners to try and decide when would be the right time. We do need to let the entire public have access to those lands,” Lemay said. She added that the NCC will likely have to close the park for a couple of days to clean it and make sure it is safe once protesters have left.

Lemay said that the Ottawa Police will have to decide “what action they will take and when.

“I can’t speak on their behalf but we’ve asked them to enforce the trespassing act,” she said.

“It’s a fine balance. We do appreciate and respect the fact that Canadians have a right to express themselves, so there’s balance between that and having the use of federal land back to the entire public and not just a specific group,” Lemay said.

“Put that in context with a movement that was ... beyond our borders. That came as something we had not seen.”

“We were really and still are hoping for a very respectful and safe resolution of this, so all of these factors were really important,” she said.


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