Occupy Vancouver protesters are trespassing on city-managed land and should be legally forced to dismantle their month-long camp, a city lawyer has argued.
In asking a judge for an injunction to shut down the camp, Ben Parkin told B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie on Wednesday the group has been violating city land regulations and fire bylaws since setting up a tent city Oct. 15.
The legal tactic is different than last week, when the city argued that health and safety was in jeopardy in order to obtain an interim ruling compelling the group to comply with the fire code.
At that time they also raised the spectre of imminent safety concerns, including mention of the drug overdose death of a 23-year-old Victoria woman in a tent.
"They do not have written permission from the city manager for any activities on the art gallery lands," Parkin told the judge in his opening argument, after first spending most of the day going back and forth over procedural matters.
In building his case, Parkin argued protesters built structures despite being warned against the action, have littered, left dirty food plates and scraps that have attracted rats, and damaged turf and plants.
The details were presented in affidavits from city employees.
Parkin also noted protesters have been informed they are violating bylaws, and that the city's fire chief has yet to gain full compliance with the interim order.
"Because the tent city exists on the site ... it presents considerable difficulty to monitor compliance with that order and ensure it's safe."
Parkin will continue his case on Thursday, after which lawyers for several defendants named on the civil action will be given the opportunity to reply.
Earlier on Wednesday, one of those lawyers, Jason Gratl, told the judge he wanted to challenge the city on the basis of charter rights.
"There's just no escaping the requirement to look at the infringement of free expression," he said, also noting the case impacts the right to freedom of assembly.
Lawyers for both sides agreed at some point the constitutional issues may need to be argued in a summary trial.
Last week, Justice Anne MacKenzie set aside three days for the hearing, but it’s not known if she will decide on the injunction by the time the hearing closes on Friday.
Occupy Victoria shutting down
In Victoria on Wednesday, most of the protesters at the Occupy camp began packing up their tents voluntarily on Wednesday morning, saying they don't want to get arrested if the city gets an injunction.
The protesters said they expect the city will be granted a court injunction to remove them during a hearing scheduled for Thursday, so they decided to leave voluntarily rather than face a confrontation with police and possible arrest.
The protesters invited city crews to help them clean up the Centennial Square site, and the city responded by sending a garbage truck and wood chipper. Some of the protesters said they intend to remain at the site for one last night before vacating on Thursday.
During an inspection of Occupy Vancouver on Tuesday, officials removed several tents and tarps from, saying the protesters had yet to fully comply with last week’s court ruling that ordered them to bring the site in line with municipal bylaws.
Encampment occupants were mostly calm as workers bundled up tents and tarps, loaded them onto municipal pickup trucks and drove them away.
A few protesters argued with fire officials, but most just quietly watched. Others attempted to make last-minute adjustments to their tents to avoid being targeted themselves.
One protester who sat down in the middle of an adjacent street was arrested for breach of the peace and was later released without charge.
Death led to injunction hearing
The city spent weeks equivocating about what to do with the encampment, but finally took steps to remove the protesters last week after a young woman died of a drug overdose.
Ashlie Gough, 23, was found in her tent on Nov. 5. The B.C. Coroners Service determined Gough died of a drug overdose after taking a mixture of cocaine and heroin.
Occupy Vancouver has become an issue ahead of Saturday's municipal election, with mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton saying Mayor Gregor Robertson has not moved quickly enough to shut the camp down.