Occupy Calgary protesters stay put

A deadline for Occupy Calgary demonstrators to move out of Olympic Plaza has passed, and the city says it has no plans to forcibly remove them or their tents.

Police won't 'forcibly' evict campers

A deadline for Occupy Calgary demonstrators to move out of Olympic Plaza has passed, and the city says it has no plans to forcibly remove them or their tents.

Bylaw officers handed out 24-hour warnings the day before ordering protesters to remove their camp from the plaza, just across from city hall. The officers had been expected to return at noon Wednesday to remove any unoccupied tents and summon to court any protesters who refused to leave, but none showed up.

"You can't evict an idea whose time has come," said a demonstrator named Aaron, who was carrying a large sign that read "The World is Watching."

"The time for this idea is definitely here now," he said. 

Another sign painted in red on one of the tents said "Don't Be Afraid."

Charter argument

Olympic Plaza protesters have no constitutional right to stay there, a Calgary lawyer who specializes in free speech issues says.

The Charter of Rights protects the content of the message — however distasteful or unpopular it may be — but not how a person delivers that message, John Carpay of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms told CBC News.

"You couldn't hit somebody and say that's part of my right to express myself," Carpay said. "But even putting up a tent city in a public place and denying the use of that public place on a permanent or quasi-permanent basis is a method of expression and that is not protected by the charter."

The charter does not give protesters the right to break the bylaw that prohibits overnight camping in the park, Carpay said.

Police Chief Rick Hanson spoke briefly with reporters while dozens of protesters crowded behind him. He said Occupy Calgary has been basically a peaceful protest and freedom of speech is protected under the Charter of Rights.

"The belief that there's been all kinds of rampant vandalism down there that has been ignored is just not right," Hanson said. "The role of the police is to ensure that rights are protected for everybody."

One protester thought Hanson's statement meant the demonstrators had carte blanche to continue the occupation: "Now that they've admitted they can't move us, that's a huge feeling."

However, bylaw officers could continue to issue tickets to those whose tents remain in the place.

Tent fire probed

Earlier Wednesday, investigators were working to discover what caused a tent fire at 1:30 a.m. MT that injured two people. A pile of bed sheets and clothes, soaked in water, some of it charred, could be seen lying on the ground hours later.

Bill Bruce, head of the city's bylaw services, says the incident "demonstrates that parks are not the right place to be camping." He says the fire and colder weather in the forecast heading into the evening could make things dangerous.

A protester who was sleeping in another tent a few metres away says he awoke to a scream of "fire." By the time he got out of his tent, he says two other men had already put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher.

The man told CBC News a candle tipped over, causing the fire, but officials have not confirmed that.

Two young men who were in the tent were taken to hospital, but EMS has not released information on the injuries the two may have suffered.

The contents of a tent where the fire was reported are seen lying on the ground. (Leighton Klassen/CBC)

"The fire caused one man to pack up his tent and leave," CBC's Terri Trembath reported from the scene.

Bylaw officers accompanied by police went to the protest site Tuesday afternoon to issue 42 notices, telling people to remove tents, signs, bikes and other property or they will be ordered to appear in court where a judge will decide penalties.

Those warnings were issued around 11:30 a.m. and had a 24-hour expiry.

On Monday, bylaw officers posted signs at the site, telling protesters to remove unoccupied tents. The notices said violators could face fines ranging from $100 to $1,000.

Demonstrators have been camping at Olympic Plaza since mid-October, when an international day of protest spawned from the Occupy Wall Street encampment was held. Occupy groups are diverse and appear generally leaderless, and while each emphasizes various concerns, they generally are fighting against the widening income gap between the rich and poor.

With files from The Canadian Press