British Columbia

Vancouver takes 'watch and wait' approach to Occupy protest

Vancouver's police chief says he's not eager to have his officers disperse Occupy Vancouver protesters, saying it simply hasn't worked in other cities.
About 100 protesters remained camped out on Saturday despite the cold and wet weather. (CBC)

Vancouver's police chief says he's not eager to have his officers disperse Occupy Vancouver protesters, saying it simply hasn't worked in other cities.

Speaking to city council on Tuesday afternoon, Chief Jim Chu said he would like the city to seek a court injunction before moving in to break up the protest.

Chu said he wants to avoid violent clashes between police and protesters as seen in U.S. cities like Oakland and Chicago.

 "I am also familiar with what is happening in other major cities — I am on a mailing list of the major cities in the U.S. and Canada and the agencies that have intervened have not been able to end it in their jurisdictions," he said.

Chu said police are absorbing the costs of policing the protest into their budget. Vancouver police have not asked for any extra money to pay for officers at the protest.

Court injunction could take weeks

City manager Penny Ballem said neither police, firefighters nor health officials have raised imminent concerns for the upwards of 60 people who are tenting nightly in the square behind the city's art gallery.

She said going to the courts to get an injunction would require showing there are significant risks to the public and that process could still take days or weeks.

Occupy protests against corporate greed are similarly occurring in 1,700 cities around the world, and Vancouver city staff say they'd like a peaceful resolution but they are still taking a "watch and wait" approach.

The city council update on the two-week-old demonstration came just before councillor and mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton introduced a motion calling on city staff to remove the tents from the art gallery within a week.

Anton has managed to make the Occupy Vancouver camp a key issue in the municipal election, with her repeated attacks on her rival, mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson.

Robertson, who is currently the mayor and a member of the Vision Vancouver party, has said he wants a peaceful resolution to the protest. Anton has called his response wishy-washy and ambivalent and demanded council deal with the issue.

But as the sole NPA councillor, Anton failed to generate any support to make her motion a reality on Tuesday, and she failed to find a seconder to put forward her motion for a vote.

SFU political science professor Patrick Smith says even if the motion doesn't go anywhere, it still keeps the issue alive for Anton.

"As long as Ms. Anton is able to push it, like she can with her motion, even if it doesn't get seconded it still keeps it on the agenda."

But Smith notes at this point, he doesn't sense much public appetite for a heavy-handed approach to remove the protesters.

Legal rights of protest camps

Meanwhile in Victoria, one lawyer is arguing the Occupy Victoria encampment at Centennial Square may have legal right to stay.

Catherine Boies-Parker cites a past case where a camp on Parliament Hill was protected under freedom of expression provisions in the Constitution and says the same argument could be made for the Occupy Victoria protest.

"Certainly in this case and where it is linked to other forms of expression, and when it is about occupation, I would argue that having the tents there, and having the tents there all day, is an essential part of the expression that is taking place," she said.

But Boies-Parker notes that neither the right to free expression nor the right to shelter are completely protected.

With files from The Canadian Press