British Columbia

Mayor says Occupy Vancouver may be forcibly removed

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says he still wants a sensible ending to the Occupy Vancouver protest, but admits authorities may be forced to remove occupiers from the art gallery site.

Fire officials' order defied by occupiers who claim an 'autonomous zone'

Mayor Gregor Robertson says he still wants a sensible ending to the Occupy Vancouver tent city at the city’s art gallery — but admits authorities may be forced to remove occupiers from the site.

"They are not complying with the bylaws, all of the city bylaws, particularly with the encampment," Robertson told a news conference Friday. "And now there's concern if the fire bylaws are not respected that the city has no choice but to take action."

Fire officials wanted some tents and tarps removed from the site to improve access and fire safety, and set a 10 a.m. PT Friday deadline. But they say occupiers are not complying sufficiently.

Robertson won't say when he may seek a court injunction to have police physically remove protesters, however he said city staff are actively working on the idea.

A camp spokeswoman, who only gave her name as Kiki, said Friday morning that the protesters don't recognize the authority of police, firefighters or other city officials in the camp.

Kiki said the protesters would take their own measures to make the camp safer, including taking down some tarps, but would not necessarily comply with all the fire department's demands.

They said the camp is an autonomous and weapons-free community, and that city officials would be welcome as individuals but not recognized in their official capacity.

City expects compliance without force

Shortly afterwards, Vancouver's fire Chief John McKearney took a walk through the camp and said his concerns about safety have grown and he still expects all his orders will be complied with.

McKearney said he's still optimistic that he can work with the protesters to meet his fire and safety concerns.

Fire Capt. Gabe Roder issued a statement Friday afternoon saying negotiations with the protesters continue.

"Unfortunately, very little compliance with the order was observed. We are currently working with reps from Occupy Vancouver and will continue to do so throughout the day to ensure compliance of the order is achieved. VFRS will continue a measured approach to ensure life and fire safety on the site."

City manager Penny Ballem also took a walk through the camp on Friday morning and said even though the deadline has been missed, the city won't move in forcefully, but will ensure the camp is safe.

"We're not prepared to use force. I think you've heard very, very clearly from our mayor and council that this whole issue is something we'd like to bring about peacefully. And force is not the way to enforce our fire bylaw," said Ballem.

"So we are going to keep talking to them, and move things along, and if it's necessary, we may have to do some of the tidying up ourselves."

Ballem says she expects a good relationship between the city and the protesters to continue.

Orders issued after overdose

The standoff between the protesters and city officials began on Thursday after firefighters were called to the site when a protester had a cardiac arrest from an apparent heroin overdose.

Fire Chief McKearney said when firefighters arrived they had trouble accessing the camp and found two propane tanks inside some of the tents, despite previous orders from fire officials.

Fire Chief John McKearney ordered the protesters at Occupy Vancouver to clean up the camp on Thursday. (CBC)

McKearney ordered the protesters to clear space between the tents, remove many of the tarps and unoccupied tents and get rid of all propane tanks and open flames.

"As all can imagine these tents, not only the tents themselves, the canopies and all the combustible materials that are in there would be a flame thrower if fire did get going in there," he said.

"There must be full visibility, egress and access, on a 24/7 basis," said McKearney.

At the camp on Thursday, there was initially mixed reaction to the order with some saying the tarps are necessary for residents to keep themselves dry in the cold wet weather.

Protester Matt Kvikstad objected to the fire department's compliance order, saying it was part of an effort to shut down the camp.

"It doesn't matter. They tried to tell us they wanted something done by a certain time before too. We didn't do it," he said.

"They can't do nothing. They are trying to get their foot in the door a little further and further to try and shut us down.

Vancouver Fire Dept. order to Occupy Vancouver

  • Remove all tarp enclosures or erect overhead tarps as canopies providing full visibility and appropriate egress and access.
  • Identify for fire safety inspectors all tents that are occupied.
  • Remove unoccupied tents.
  • Provide appropriate spacing between tents to reduce/eliminate fire spread and smoke exposure.
  • Remove all open flame and/or flammable heat sources.
  • No propane or other fuel sources on site.

Early on Friday morning some protesters issued a statement saying they would restructure the camp, but may not meet all the fire departments terms by 10 a.m.

"We pride ourselves on creating a safe environment," the unsigned statement said.

"We disagree that there is a health and safety violation here. We have a plan to restructure our community but until then, due to basic health and shelter needs, we won't be moving some of our tents," the statement said.

"We are not leaving. Come join us. Everyone is welcome," said the statement.

The statement issued on Friday morning also included a summary of the purpose of the protest, and some protesters also published a rough draft of 59 demands on Thursday.

"Occupy Vancouver, in solidarity with other city occupations, has come together to transform the unequal, unfair, and growing disparity in the distribution of power and wealth in our city and around the globe.

"We challenge corporate greed, corruption, and the collusion between corporate power and government, and oppose systemic inequality, militarization, environmental destruction, and the erosion of civil liberties and human rights. We seek economic security, genuine equality, and the protection of the environment for all."

Christmas tree lighting moved

As a result of the camp's occupation of the Vancouver Art Gallery lawn on West Georgia Street, a second Christmas event has changed its plans.

The fifth annual Vancouver Tree Lighting event will be held at Jack Poole Plaza at the Trade and Convention Centre on Dec. 9, organizers announced on Thursday.

Earlier this week organizers of the annual Santa Claus Parade announced they would reroute the parade to avoid the protest camp.

Meanwhile in Victoria fire chief says there have been no incidents of concern at the Occupy Victoria camp.

Chief Jeff Lambert says firefighters have encountered no problems during regular walk-throughs of the site at Centennial Square.

"The organizers have been great about working with us in ensuring that fire safety is observed and that they're not using candles within their tents," he said.

"There are exit routes, means of egress for people should something happen and the organizers and the occupants have been very good about following that."

Lambert says his department's approach is based on respect and not enforcement.

The city council has passed a motion in support of Occupy Victoria, but it wasn't unanimous.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young was the only one to vote against it, citing issues similar to those bothering Vancouver fire officials, such as crowding, over-used bathrooms, and heating dangers.

"I think we on Victoria council are sympathetic to the concept of political demonstrations," said Young.

"But we've all had to come to terms with the fact that, as this thing has gone on, it's become less of a political demonstration and more simply a campout."

Young says there is agreement on council that Occupy Victoria should eventually end, but disagreement as to when.