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Victoria city council approves tent city

Jeffrey Hodgins kneels while pointing to a sign he chalked onto the pavement at the Occupy Victoria site in Centennial Square . Hodgins message said  Land Reform, Free Market, Land is: Housing, Production, Food, Life. - Don Denton/News staff
Jeffrey Hodgins kneels while pointing to a sign he chalked onto the pavement at the Occupy Victoria site in Centennial Square . Hodgins message said Land Reform, Free Market, Land is: Housing, Production, Food, Life.
— image credit: Don Denton/News staff

Victoria council has given its thumbs up to the Occupy Victoria tent protest at Centennial Square.

With only Coun. Geoff Young opposing, council Thursday said it will support Occupy Victoria as long the the protesters remain peaceful and restrict themselves to using “non-violent assembly” to get their message out.

The protest is part of a “worldwide citizens’ movement to address historic and existing inequalities in financial and governmental institutions, policies and practices,” council said in its motion.

“The People’s Assembly of Victoria represents local resident participation and public engagement in this global protest and dialogue.”

Council’s action effectively ends any threat using police to clear out Centennial Square protesters who have set up about 60 tents at Centennial Square where the Downtown Victoria Business Association plans to set up a large temporary public skating rink next month.

Protest spokespeople and the DVBA have been meeting regularly to reach a compromise.

Although no formal agreement has been reached to shift some tents into an area of the square that won’t interfere with the ice rink, People’s Assembly of Victoria spokesperson Anushka Nagji said most of protest campers “don’t mind moving.”

But it’s not a unanimous, she said.

Some protesters don’t like the idea of relocating and might not move due to the unwritten rules of the camp where individuals cannot be forced to accommodate the rest.

“It’s up to them themselves to decide whether to move,” said Nagji.

Mayor Dean Fortin said while it is a fluid situation he has “every indication they will “work with us” because the protesters “don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas.”

Asked whether he has set a deadline on how long the city will allow the protest camp to stay in place, Fortin said the city won’t take police action as long as the situation remains peaceful and no criminal activity takes place.

“Right now we have no deadline,” said Fortin, adding that he is closely monitoring what happens at other Occupy protest camps to get a feel for what might happen next in Victoria.

“I’m going day by day,” he said.

About 15 protest tents are currently on the exact spot the Downtown Victoria Business Association has an agreement with the city to set up a 17x11-metre outdoor ice rink for public use.

Nagji said Fortin has “chatted” with some protesters and gave them a map of sections of the square he would like to see free of tents in order to allow the ice rink.

The DVBA has plans to install the ice rink on Nov. 21 and formally open it to the public on Nov. 26 until Jan. 2 when it will be taken down.

Nagji said the People’s Assembly has set up a “vigilance detail” of four men who patrol the protest camp at night to ensure it remains quiet and peaceful.

She said the main source of the few problems that arise occur after downtown bars close and rowdies pose noise and physical risk to the sleeping protests.

So far nothing has happened that the security detail hasn’t been able to diffuse, including handling a tiny element of Victoria’s homeless community “bent on creating problems,” said Nagji.

As a last resort, she said Victoria police would be called for help if any situation threatened the safety of the protesters.

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