An Ontario Superior Court ruled the City of Toronto has the authority to evict Occupy Toronto protesters from a park near the city’s financial district.
Superior Court Justice David Brown said today in a decision that a trespass notice against demonstrators that have occupied St. James Park since Oct. 15 is “constitutionally valid,” allowing the city to evict those who have been camping at the park.
“The protesters have ample means left to express their message, including continued use of the park (but no structures or ‘midnight hours’), and other Torontonians can resume their use of the park,” the judge said.
Protesters moved into St. James Park in sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that began in New York and spread worldwide. Protesters also set up tent cities in other Canadian cities including Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver.
“They’re basically saying that someone’s dog should be able to poop in the park without even seeing a protester,” said Sakura Saunders, a Toronto-based protester who will act as a ’witness’ when evictions take place. “Somehow that right supersedes people’s right to free speech.”
Toronto served protesters with a trespass notice on Nov. 15 prohibiting them from installing tents or shelters at the park, and gathering between 12:01 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. The city said in the notice it will evict the protesters if they didn’t comply. Mayor Rob Ford told reporters today he wants the protesters out of the park “as soon as possible.”
There are about 100 people sleeping in structures known as yurts at St. James Park, after staying in tents when weather was warmer, said Krystal Kraus, a “town crier” for Occupy Toronto. Included in the figures are homeless people, she said.
The protest group is considering an appeal and is working on other plans to spread their message, Kraus said. Toronto is Canada’s most populous city and the third-largest financial center in North America.
New York City police arrested 252 people on Nov. 18 in connection with Occupy Wall Street protests, three days after demonstrators were ousted from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan.
Justice Brown noted that demonstrators didn’t ask those who live and work around St. James Park, and people who use the park, what they would think if the park was turned into a tent city.
Practice What You Preach
“The protesters have every right to voice their critiques of the current political, economic and financial systems and to seek to bring others over to their point of view,” Brown said. “Although proclaiming a message of participatory democracy, the evidence, unfortunately, reveals that the protesters did not practice what they were preaching when they decided to occupy the park.”
In Montreal, the French-speaking city is tolerating protesters and has no plans to kick them out of Victoria Square, according to La Presse. Some protesters were leaving the site because of an outbreak of violence in the evenings, according to the newspaper.
The National Capital Commission, the government agency that owns the park where Occupy Ottawa protests are taking place, said today it would issue notices saying that camping in the park is not allowed and that all personal belongings, including tents, must be removed by midnight tonight.
Demonstrators camped on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery have until this afternoon local time to clear the area of tents after the Supreme Court of British Columbia last week issued an injunction.
Vancouver officials have sought to clear the lawn in front of the gallery by seeking court backing to enforce fire regulations and municipal by-laws.
Mayor Gregor Robertson was re-elected Saturday after being criticized during the campaign by challenger Suzanne Anton for his handling of the Vancouver protest.