About one third of the 60 tents making up the Occupy Victoria protest at city hall disappeared by the time the city’s noon Monday eviction deadline hit.
But the remaining protesters are defiant and promise to stay until the end, without specifying when that would be.
Mayor Dean Fortin said the city is applying for a B.C. Supreme Court injunction allowing Victoria to evict the protest encampment now numbering about 40 tents in Centennial Square. The city has planned various Christmas Season ceremonies using the square, including a temporary outdoor ice rink slated to be installed Nov. 21.
On Sunday Victoria bylaw officers protected by police handed out 87 eviction notices to protest campers, telling them they were breaking a city bylaw prohibiting camping on Victoria property during the daytime.
At Monday’s deadline about 125 protesters and Occupy Victoria supporters linked arms into a human shield around the camp’s media tent and kitchen, shouting “hell no, we won’t go.” Another 75 supporters, including the news media, milled about without joining in.
No tickets were issued Monday afternoon.
Fortin said once the city has an injunction in its hands it can legally send in police to arrest and remove protesters. He worries, however, it may be days and even weeks before an injunction is issued.
Until police have an injunction and serve it, he said police cannot legally step in to forcibly move the protest camp.
Although he and council continue to support Occupy Victoria’s ideals, he said council, police and city staff have watched in horror in the past week as drug addicts, street people, “and criminal elements” have moved into the tent city.
Occupy Victoria representatives in the movement’s media tent, powered by batteries and solar panels since the power was cut off last week, admit a handful of street people had set up tents, but that they are generally well-behaved. The camp has its own security patrol at night to keep things under control — including against rowdies who harass them after bars are shut down.
Ken Kelly, Downtown Victoria Business Association general manager, said the protest has already resulted in fewer people shopping at downtown businesses that “are 80 per cent locally owned.”
Unless the protest camp is soon dismantled, he said “our greatest fear is more people are going to avoid going downtown.”
Kelly said the protesters have “no idea how to restructure the economy” and should leave – voluntarily or be forced to leave.
“By remaining they are taking away the right of property owners to earn a living,” he said.
Fortin said Occupy Victoria spokespersons have told him they are worried about people who are moving into occupy the square but don’t share the movement’s aspirations to end corporate greed, social inequities and environment destruction.
However, Fortin said he still “hopes” the city and the People’s Assembly of Victoria organizers behind Occupy Victoria “arrive at some sort of peaceful resolution through negotiation” before an injunction is granted.