The occupation of Centennial Square could be coming to an end sooner than some expected, but while the City of Victoria is doing its best to push out the movement, they may be in for a tough haul.
On Monday, Nov. 7, the city filed a petition in the B.C. Supreme Court seeking a court order “to remove the tents, structures and objects in Centennial Square that are a part of the Occupy Victoria demonstration.” This action followed the delivery of 87 eviction notices on Nov. 6 that prompted the People’s Assembly of Victoria to gather forces and supportive residents to swell the area with a message: we’re not going anywhere.
A hearing has been set for Nov. 15, and Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin has stated that no action will take place before the injunction is issued. However, despite his outspoken early support of the movement, Fortin says ongoing concerns have changed the city’s ability to stay compliant.
“I want to make clear that I continue to support the important message that has been sparked in our community, but I no longer believe the camp in Centennial Square is an appropriate way to continue that conversation,” says Fortin. “The nature of the encampment has shifted and we have becoming increasingly concerned about the increase in criminal activity and drug use.”
Fortin adds that the camp “is simply not compatible” with the upcoming events planned for Centennial Square, including fountain repair, tree lights, ice skating rink installation and a Santa parade — many of which are new activities this year. Fortin says he is hopeful the occupiers will leave voluntarily and find other means of protesting.
“I have had conversation with the campers about looking at other opportunities to encourage their message, like an education tent. But that is up to them,” he says. “Some of them have mentioned flash protests to me, which also sounds like an interesting idea.”
The move has caught residents off-guard, however, and people are searching for a reason for the sudden shift in support — a switch that the Occupy Vancouver movement also saw after 23-year-old Victoria woman Ashlie Gough died of a suspected drug overdose on the weekend.
“We had heard that as long as the protestors were accommodating, there would be no need for an eviction, and if you see how they’ve cleared out of the lower level of Centennial Square as they were asked to, I think we can rationalize that they are doing their part,” says city councillor Philippe Lucas. “For the first time here, the city has put us in a situation where we could see confrontational action, and I think this move has really affected the group’s ability to trust us.”
Lucas has called an emergency council meeting to address the legal response the city was given by the People’s Assembly of Victoria after the eviction notices were issued. Lucas hopes to see a peaceful resolution to the issue, where the rights of free speech and protest can still be respected.
“I don’t really know what I would do if they tried to remove us — maybe sit down and meditate through it,” says Jon Dowdall, 27, who has camped in the square and at other Occupy movements around the Island since Oct. 15. “It’s been really amazing to see this awareness hub sprouting here, and to see what evolves right before your eyes. It’s like a study of humanity. We need more spaces like this that give people that freedom to create and evolve … I hope they don’t try to take that away.”
For some, like Daniel Evans, however, that evolving hub has become a homestead. Evans, 37, is a former U.S. firefighter on disability after an accident on the job. He moved to Canada to care for his mother, but due to citizenship issues has been unable to secure work.
“This movement has given me hope because here are people, just like me, fighting with a system that’s not working for the people,” says Evans, with tears in his eyes. “We don’t have anywhere else to go. I have all of my and my mother’s belongings in this tent. The shelters won’t let us store it. This is the first community that has felt safe.”
Evans, who built the “Fortress of Solidarity” at the square says he has no interest in conflict, but is willing to stand his ground.
“I can’t understand how they can do this to us. It’s like we were tricked into thinking they were supportive, and now they aren’t,” he says. “Of course I’d rather be indoors — but I’m out here for a reason.” M