Occupy Victoria protesters who set up a tent city at Centennial Square say they will remain until evicted or the social and economic problems that led to the protest are solved.
There’s no chance police will be ordered to evict the protest campers, Mayor Dean Fortin said Monday .
“We don’t see any need at this time,” said Fortin who praises the Occupy Victoria movement and its international counterparts as “citizen participation and one of the emerging issues of our times.”
While the police are aware he supports the Occupy Victoria movement, Fortin said he has not told police how to treat the protesters because “it is totally inappropriate for the mayor to interfere with police operations.”
Fortin said “people have an urgent need to be involved in the events and process that shape their lives.”
Const. Mike Russell, Victoria police media spokesperson, said police actions are designed to “work with rather than against” the protesters, adding the police have talked with the mayor and act accordingly.
Russell said no additional police manpower has been alloted to keeping an eye on the protest camp other than the “typical patrol” Centennial Square normally undergoes.
At least 17 tents occupied by about 30 protesters have been on the site since the Saturday launch of the Occupy Victoria protest that saw demonstrations by several hundred people at Centennial Square, on the B.C. legislature grounds, and a march through downtown Victoria by more than 1,000 people.
Occupy Victoria protesters said the mayor could easily have used his power to order police to disrupt two Occupy Victoria protests – the downtown protest by the recently founded People’s Assembly of Victoria and a similar demonstration by another group called We Are Change Victoria, on the B.C. legislature grounds earlier the same day and attended by about 300 people.
“The mayor being on side is huge,” said Anushka Nagji, 25, one of the People’s Assembly organizers and a University of Victoria law student who graduates in April. “He has a lot of power and was in a position to allow or not allow it to happen.”
She said she is “heartened” at the friendly police attitude towards the Occupy Victoria protesters.
Fellow organizer Rob Rao, 34, said Fortin could have called in police to evict the campers because of a city bylaw that says tents and other temporary structures put up in public parks can only stay in place between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and must then be dismantled.
Unlike the B.C. legislature grounds demonstration that had a letter of approval from the province, the people behind the Centennial Square protest and march did not have permits from the city and were technically illegal.
Rao said the overwhelming majority of people involved in Saturday’s demonstration were individuals who said they would not normally get involved in public protest but are increasingly upset at corporate and bank control of the economy that is crushing jobs, destroying social programs, and telling governments what to do.
Josh Steffler, spokesman for the We Are Change Victoria which is not tied to the People’s Assembly, said Fortin was correct in allowing Occupy Victoria to proceed without interference.
“It would have been easy for him to say, ‘No, they don’t have a permit (for Saturday’s protest and the tent city)” and tell the police, ‘Please remove them’.”
Even though the city has now shut down power outlets to Centennial Square, the protesters said it is just a minor inconvenience.