Most Occupy campers plan to leave

Couple gave up home to protest, now ready for movement’s next phase

Pom Pom the dog gives a yawn as his owners Céline and Gerry Daoust start their last day occupying Centennial Square on Wednesday. The B.C. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments for an injunction against Occupy Victoria tomorrow

After a contentious emergency vote Tuesday night, tensions are running high at the Occupy Victoria encampment.

One 40-something swears a blue streak at a group of younger men, breaking the quiet of the morning.

“I got pepper-sprayed last night,” says a 21-year old, adding he doesn’t know who did it. When he called out for help, other voices told him to shut up.

A handful of encampments delineate the factions at Centennial Square.

“That’s crack corner, and that’s prostitute corner,” points out Céline Daoust, a 43-year-old involved since Oct. 15. The homeless are welcome, she says, but she’s surprised there aren’t more people like herself camping.

The People’s Assembly of Victoria, the official name of the protesters behind the Occupy movement, have clustered in two spots, she explains.

Daoust and her husband of 21 years, Gerry, have been spending the nights in sleeping bags, exposed to the elements. The couple own a $1,000 tent, but it’s too valuable to leave outside, she explains. They also took a break, checking themselves into a hotel for a time.

At Tuesday’s emergency general assembly, they were among about 50 people who voted on whether to disband, move, or mount a legal battle against the City of Victoria’s petition to the court to remove the encampment.

The assembly voted to decamp, says Daoust.

But others have a different impression of the proceedings. The young men are planning to move their tents to better accommodate the city’s plans.

The vote “just dissolved into a contentious argument,” explains Anushka Nagji, a law student at the University of Victoria. Between her studies and three jobs, she’s been spending a few hours a day at the square, and acts as unofficial spokesperson. While there is no consensus, most people plan to leave, she says.

The countdown is on for Nagji.

On Tuesday morning, a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted the People’s Assembly 48 hours to mount their legal defence. Nagji and lawyer Rajinder Sahota are giving it their best shot, fully acknowledging their chance of success is minimal given the timeline.

“We just want to make the reply and have our day in court,” Nagji says. The hearing was scheduled for Thursday morning, after the News deadline.

Nagji and two others have volunteers to be named as respondents in the court case, and submit affidavits, which could open them up to liability.

“The city’s bullying David-and-Goliath tactics needs to be addressed,” Nagji says. The people’s assembly have few resources compared to the city, which draws on tax dollars to make its legal case, she adds.

Nagji boils down the Assembly’s defence as follows: While the city argues an injunction is needed to make way for city-planned events, the protesters have already made accommodations and will continue to make accommodations if given the chance.

Mayor Dean Fortin, however, says the protesters’ presence is more than an inconvenience to upcoming events, such as the skating rink, lighting of the trees, carolling comeptitions and others.

“What can be accomplished trying to work around people can be very difficult, I suspect, which is why we’re looking forward to a court injunction,” he explains. The injunction, he adds, isn’t about removing people, but just their structures, such as tents.

Although Céline and Gerry’s cold nights have likely come to an end, their protest has not.

While Gerry leaves to add $2 to the meter to keep his Jeep parked nearby, Céline explains the couple gave up their apartment to join the Occupy movement.

They are here representing the working middle class who struggle to get ahead.

“We’re resourceful,” says Gerry upon his return. In the evenings, they earn money by offering a designated-driver service.

We’re also lucky, he acknowledges.

Unlike some at the camp, they have savings to draw from, to afford comforts like the coffee-to-go cups they sip from to keep warm.

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